How Digital Realty Tracks Its Sustainability Progress
Bobby Rogers, Vice President of Sales for Schneider Electric's Data Center Solutions Team
The data center industry is becoming increasingly responsive to environmental concerns. Typically, the industry has used a great deal of energy to power its facilities, cooling systems, and customers’ computer servers. In many cases, they have consumed substantial amounts of water to cool their systems. However, one of Schneider Electric’s customers, Digital Realty is out to lead the way toward greater sustainability — and it’s using data to get real results.
Digital Realty is a real estate investment trust that owns, acquires, develops and operates a global platform of data centers. They also lead the data center industry in sustainable environmental performance as demonstrated by being the first data center company to receive an ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year award. They have now received this award for two years in a row and thirty-one Digital Realty facilities representing 70 percent of Digital Realty’s U.S. footprint by capacity have received ENERGY STAR certification.
Setting the Sustainability Goals
Because Digital Realty is the largest global provider of cloud- and carrier-neutral data center, colocation and interconnection solutions, setting an ambitious sustainability goal for their premier global data center platform (PlatformDIGITAL®) was no small task. In 2020, Digital Realty committed to reducing its Scope 1 and 2 emissions (direct and indirect) by 68 percent in more than 290 of the data centers they operate in 24 countries. This is in line with a 1.5-degree climate change scenario confirmed by the Science-Based Target Initiative for reduced carbon emissions by 2030.
In broad terms, Digital Realty targets the full lifecycle of its data centers in their sustainability goals. The process starts with the acquisition and development of facilities and evolves into optimizing the operational lifecycle, including the periodic refurbishments of infrastructure and supply chain. They build on their efforts using green bonds, renewable energy, energy efficiency tactics, water stewardship, climate change resilience and green building practices to find new and innovative solutions to curb emissions directly in their facilities and their supply chain.
Collaborating with Sustainability-Focused Customers
For Digital Realty, sustainability is not only good for the planet — it’s good for business. Resource efficiency has repeatedly proven itself to have business value because using water and electricity more efficiently saves money and aligns with its customers’ priorities. To that end, 90 percent of Digital Realty’s top 20 customers have publicly stated their sustainability goals.
Digital Realty integrates its customer feedback and commitments into decision-making to help them reach their sustainability objectives. Also, ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) — the three critical factors for measuring a company’s sustainability and ethical impact, is increasingly important to investors. As one of the ten largest publicly traded US Real Estate Investment Trusts (“REIT”), Digital Realty actively engages with key investors to understand their investment priorities and objectives as they relate to ESG.
Measuring Metrics for Energy Savings
Digital Realty uses verifiable metrics and third-party organizations to back its claims. As a significant supplier to Digital Realty, and as “the world’s most sustainable company,” Schneider Electric is also on a journey to continue to lead on sustainability topics, and both of our companies know that we must have quantifiable data to back up our claims.
A much-watched energy efficiency metric at Digital Realty is PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness). PUE is the ratio between annual energy consumed by the data center and annual energy consumed by all computer servers in the facility. Their colocation PUE reduction goal of 10 percent by 2022 (against 2017 baseline) was exceeded, and they reduced PUE by 11 percent. They provide their customers with information down to the individual customer suite level by utilizing Schneider Electric’s PME software to improve their PUE performance. This data enables their customers to also improve their PUE performance.
Significant energy savings can be realized through LED lighting at data centers, and Digital Realty’s new data centers use LED lighting throughout because it’s the most efficient lighting available today. Their cooling systems also take advantage of “free cooling” whenever possible. Even in warm climates like Santa Clara, California, many of Digital Realty’s data centers use the cool night air as a heat sink for thousands of hours each year to save on electricity. They also use renewable energy in many markets. For example, in Dallas, Texas Digital Realty has long-term agreements to source 154 MW of wind and solar power. Schneider Electric worked on Digital Realty’s behalf to negotiate a portion of these renewable energy Power Purchase Agreements. In total, Digital Realty’s entire Greater Dallas portfolio will be powered by approximately 70 percent renewable energy starting this year.
Using Data to Conserve Water
In Q1-2021, Digital Realty became the first consumer of recycled water and first and only datacenter company to join the WaterReuse Association’s Recycled Water User Network (a network for businesses and other entities that use recycled water). The company’s membership in the Recycled Water User Network includes the green designation WATER STAR® which recognizes Digital Realty’s achievements as a steward of water resources in the local community.
Digital Realty’s data-driven assessments have concluded that more than 50 percent of the water used to cool its U.S. data centers were supplied by non-potable sources in 2020. In total, 43 percent of its global water supply was provided by municipal non-potable or onsite recycled water in 2020.
In the U.S., Digital Realty’s Westin Building Exchange data center in Seattle, Washington supplies heat for the adjacent Amazon corporate campus. The Ecodistrict uses heated cooling water from the Westin Building to heat Amazon’s World Headquarters buildings. The cooled water from Amazon’s buildings is then recycled back to the Westin to cool the data center infrastructure.
The system ultimately heats about 5 million square feet of office space. Recycling excess energy from the Westin is expected to save some 80 million kilowatt hours of electricity use over 25 years—an amount equivalent to the carbon dioxide emissions from burning 62 million pounds of coal. This project is in line with the City of Seattle’s goal to reduce building energy emissions by 38% from 2008 levels by 2030 and achieve carbon neutral status by 2050.
Because climate change introduces water-related risks, Digital Realty uses GRESB metrics to perform physical risk scenario analyses for its portfolio. Risk evaluations include sea-level rise and water stress. Among the many tools the Digital Realty uses to assess water usage is The World Resource Institute’s Aqueduct tool. It provides insights into water scarcity and evaluates usage in water-scarce regions.
Next Up: Supply Chain Metrics
Knowing a sustainable business is arguably only as “clean” as its supply chain, Digital Realty has begun to focus on the environmental impact of its suppliers. As a part of its Science-Based Target Initiative the goal is to reduce scope 3 carbon emissions by 24 percent per area by 2030.
This is an ongoing effort, and Digital Realty and Schneider Electric work well together because we share similar sustainability objectives and priorities. We also continue to be proactive on implementing new and better ways to have a positive impact on the environment. We are excited to continue to work with Digital Realty to help create a better and more sustainable world and data center industry.
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