Asia-Pacific (APAC): Tighter guidelines on data centre sustainability needed, new report says

Sep 22, 2022 | Posted by MadalineDunn

There have been a number of recent reports that have highlighted that data center operators are falling short when it comes to sustainability tracking. Morningstar Sustainanalytics, Uptime Institute's 12th annual Global data center survey, and now Cushman & Wakefield's report 'Energy, Water, Carbon: A New Trinity for Measuring Data Centre Sustainability,' all urge the industry to provide a more holistic picture of data centers environmental impact. 

Cushman & Wakefield's report specifically focused on the APAC region, one of the fastest developing regions and on track to become the world's largest over the next decade. In the report, it is highlighted that energy efficiency metrics (PUE) are no longer enough to measure sustainability and that PUE alone fails to capture the "whole story." It underscores the importance of adopting new metrics, such as water usage efficiency (WUE) and carbon usage effectiveness (CUE), in what it has dubbed a 'trinity' of sustainability measurement. 

When discussing the importance of WUE, the report outlines that the data center industry is among the top ten water consumers by industry and, unlike other such industries, currently relies heavily on potable drinking water - a serious issue considering that water scarcity is becoming an increasing global concern. Likewise, when it comes to CUE, the report states that carbon emissions from data centers contribute up to 3.7% of total greenhouse gas emissions, which it says places it ahead of aviation (2.4%), shipping (2.3%), and rice cultivation (1.5%). Further to this, the report states that while PUE determines power efficiency, it doesn't consider where that power is derived from. Moreover, it is outlined that CUE, as a reporting metric, incentives operators to increase renewables supply while also factoring in building design, cooling systems, and data center site location. It goes on to say that in situations where data centers can't use natural cooling, heat recovery systems can be used to supply excess heat to local businesses and homes.

Commenting on the report's findings and ways to future-proof the sector, Cushman & Wakefield Co-head of Sustainability Services, Greater China, Alton Wong, said that as the world becomes increasingly digitalized, data centers will only continue to grow, and to ensure that this is sustainable, regulatory standards need to keep pace. Wong went on to say that the trinity of measuring carbon, water and power can provide what he calls a "much more informed baseline," from which improvements can be made.

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