How Data Center Decommissioning can Improve Your Carbon Footprint

Posted by on May 30, 2019

What is a carbon footprint?

A “carbon footprint” is a measure of the amount of greenhouse gas emissions (primarily made up of carbon dioxide) that is associated with an organization, event or production. These greenhouse gas emissions have raised concerns over the years, as it is known to be the main cause of climate change that has led to global warming.

The primary component, carbon dioxide, is a part of the Earth’s carbon cycle and is naturally present in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide emissions however are primarily a result of human activities that include anything that emits a combustion of fossil fuels for energy and transportation.

2018 was a record-breaking year for the amount of global carbon emissions that were emitted into the atmosphere. Almost all countries contributed to this increase, with China up 4.7 percent, the United States up 2.5 percent and India up 6.3 percent.

Can you guess what human activity might be a contributor to this increase in percentages? The IT and data center industries are large sources of emissions globally. Overall electricity use from IT devices could exceed 20 percent of the global total in the next 10-20 years with data centers using more than one-third of that.

It is estimated that just building one data center can increase a country’s electricity consumption by four percent. This is more than what is used in an entire year in Denmark’s third city, Odense. More data centers are looking into what they can do to offset their energy use. Therefore, here are a few ways data center decommissioning can help improve your data center’s carbon footprint and sustainability.

Sustainable lifecycle management

Data center users, owners and operators can increase their sustainability and offset their carbon footprint by integrating lifecycle thinking into the design, operation and decommissioning of their data center hardware. Opportunities can be broadly grouped as:

  • Commitment to sustainable end-of-life management,
  • Opportunities for reuse
  • Material recovery for remanufacturing

Sustainable end-of-life management

When data center equipment is ready for end-of-life management, instead of throwing these items away utilizing responsible reuse and recycling practices will help divert waste from landfill. Organizations using their own custom servers have the opportunity to partner with a recycler for input on considering reuse into their server design. These considerations might help their equipment operate longer, make the repair and refurbishment easier, and might incorporate only materials that can be recycled without residual materials going to landfill.

Many large corporations are starting to do more of this as well. Google is a good example, as they designed their own servers that last longer and are easier to reuse. In 2017, 18 percent of their new servers were remanufactured, and 11 percent of components used for machine upgrades were from refurbished inventory.

Reuse of server equipment

Any time you are reusing and recycling data center and electronic equipment, this creates a decrease in demand for resources used to produce new products. Reuse of server equipment might involve recovery, repair, reuse, and remarketing of units whether whole, parts, or base materials within the data center environment or outside of it.

Redeployment enables the company to redeploy whole or part units back into their own environment. For data centers this is not only a sustainable practice, but it is also a way to save money by leveraging reuse and recycling efforts to reduce costs.

Otherwise when a data center stops discarding any end-of-life assets and equipment from their facilities, this also diverts waste from landfill.

Material recovery for remanufacturing

Material recycling can contribute to offsetting the impact of mining virgin raw materials for new data center equipment. It is estimated that 1MW data center carbon contribution includes

  • 33,000 pounds from plastics,
  • 73,000 pounds from aluminum, and
  • 377,000 pounds from steel.

Some minerals used in the production of servers have been identified as conflict materials. These materials known as 3TG include tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold. Therefore, organizations who implement sustainable sourcing and practices are usually favored over those who do not.

It is important for data centers to start embracing these sustainable practices and circular economy initiatives. These different routine data center services will help manage and maintain the asset inventory list, and often helps identify opportunities to update original design manufacturer (ODM) servers and IT equipment integrations. As today’s data centers continue to seek better performance, equipment and cost efficiencies, decommissioning will continue to become a bigger part of the process.

Learn more about solutions for global data center decommissioning projects.

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