How to implement sustainable IT-infrastructure building practices

Aug. 11, 2020
"A green IT strategy is incomplete unless you look at the big picture of your IT infrastructure’s carbon footprint."

By Nancy Novak, chief innovation officer at Compass Datacenters 

Sustainability of IT is a topic I grapple with on a daily basis in my role because it is so important not only to my company’s mission but also to the sustainability strategies of our customers, for whom we build data centers. Let’s explore an area of sustainable IT that is often overlooked: how to ensure that your IT infrastructure is as green as the rest of your IT operations. 

This conversation is important because servers, mobile devices, sensors and similar equipment are pivotal in a company’s sustainability goals. But IT infrastructure—such as data centers—is another area of sustainability that should get just as much attention from your organization.

Compass Datacenters' Nancy Novak

There are a number of ways to make IT infrastructure greener through a smaller carbon footprint, lower energy consumption and smarter water usage. For this blog post, I will focus on how data centers are built and how that can impact your IT program’s carbon footprint.

Before I talk about data centers specifically, let’s talk about the overall carbon footprint of facility construction. Building and construction contribute to 39% of global carbon emissions. Concrete is a staple in construction, and a major component of concrete is cement. By itself, production of cement is responsible for 7% of global carbon emissions. Concrete is especially prevalent in the building of data centers, as it is used in the foundations, sidewalks, pre-cast walls and roofing.

For all of those reasons, your organization’s green IT strategy is incomplete if it doesn’t look at the carbon impact of your data centers. Not long after stepping into my current role I began to explore alternatives to traditional concrete. Surely there had to be other people like me out there who had grown tired of swallowing the nasty side effects of building with traditional concrete. While exploring options, my colleagues and I learned that there are a lot of green concrete options on the market that weren’t available until recently.

After considering many options, we decided to go with the Canadian green concrete company called CarbonCure Technologies that offers an innovative concrete mixture that drastically reduces carbon emissions. They harness carbon-sequestration technology, mineralizing CO2 captured from the atmosphere, and then combining concrete mix. The mineralized carbon drastically reduces the amount of cement required in the concrete mix, mitigating a large portion of would-be carbon emissions. One of the final deciding factors for me was that this superior material enhances the strength of the concrete and poses no extra cost.

By using green concrete, the carbon footprint of concrete construction can be dramatically reduced. In our case, we’ve estimated that using green concrete will reduce our CO2 footprint by an average of 1,800 tons per data center campus, which is the equivalent CO2 sequestered by 2,100 acres of forest or driving a car four million miles.

Using green concrete could play a significant role in your own company’s sustainability strategy as well. To me, a green IT strategy is incomplete unless you look at the big picture of your IT infrastructure’s carbon footprint. We are very excited about continuing to look for ways to implement environmentally responsible solutions in our data centers. We view the quest for sustainability as more than simply checking the box; it’s our duty to make the best possible choices and be good stewards of our piece of this exploding industry that is paving the way for the future.

Green concrete is just the beginning, and it can be just as impactful for your efforts as well.