Cutting data’s carbon footprint for a more sustainable Hong Kong

July 25, 2022 10:23
According to research, by 2025, data centres will use 20% of the world’s energy, corresponding to 5.5% of the global carbon footprint. Photo: Reuters

The creation, processing, and management of data have forever changed the world. Consider the fact that the amount of data generated each year worldwide is expected to grow to 175 zettabytes (ZB) by 2025, according to a report prepared by market research firm International Data Corporation (IDC).

Data’s flow to the cloud is fueling unparalleled innovation and business growth. That’s why many observers call data “the new oil.” And, like oil, data is the core of an industry that is under increased scrutiny as a major source of global carbon emissions in a world that’s adapting to the realities of climate change.

As data - and the industry that supports it – increase our collective contributions to global carbon emissions, organisations need to understand their impact and take steps to mitigate it. These include investments in technologies that generate and store renewable energy and carbon capture. Companies should also learn how to manage their data to fuel a sustainable future.

Data is part of the solution

The data centre sector has been growing rapidly in Hong Kong in recent years, with demand expected to remain strong. The HKSAR Government has setup a special facilitation unit to provide support to operators and foster Hong Kong as the prime location for data centres in Asia Pacific. This will help position the city as a hub for technological cooperation and trade.

According to recent research, by 2025, data centres will use 20% of the world’s energy, corresponding to 5.5% of the global carbon footprint. If no action is taken, data’s voracious appetite for energy will continue to grow unabated as digitalization accelerates.

However, it’s unrealistic for companies to stop producing or storing data in today’s world. Rather, they need to get better use out of their data. The first step is to understand the data they have, where it’s stored and how it’s used.

Only 32% of data available to enterprises is put to work; the remaining 68% is not even used, according to research by IDC. Organisations can reduce their carbon footprint by learning how much of their data they use and need and getting rid of the rest.

Moving to the cloud, invest in tech

Companies can further lower their carbon emissions by moving their data to the cloud. A forecast from IDC shows the continued adoption of cloud computing could prevent the emission of more than 1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from 2021 through 2024. A key benefit of the cloud is the greater efficiency of aggregated compute resources.

As cloud and technology adoption proliferate, cloud and data software companies have an important role in reducing the data industry’s environmental impact. They are making bold commitments to a more sustainable future by reducing their environmental footprints and helping customers build sustainable solutions.

Creating a greener data ecosystem

To further mitigate the environmental impact of data, companies can source for cloud and data centre service providers that invest in technologies that increase resource utilisation and leverage their scale to influence the energy generation mix. For example, cloud providers can contract energy companies to build solar or wind farms and commit to purchasing energy from them. These types of agreements justify the investment in renewable energy and help service providers reach sustainability targets.

Furthermore, organisations should look for service providers that design and outfit their data centres for energy efficiency. The energy optimisation measures they can implement include leveraging ambient cooling and cold-aisle containment features to optimise the energy used to cool the equipment. Efficient lighting and smart controls can also play a crucial role in lowering data centres’ carbon emissions in the long run.

Companies can also expect governments to implement environmental taxes to drive down carbon emissions within their organisation and technology supply chain. These carbon taxes will be an added cost with complex and quickly evolving compliance that may require operational changes. For example, organisations will need to consider new carbon consumption models that technology vendors are offering and review them every couple of years.

Paving the way for a more sustainable future

We believe that managing our environmental resources responsibly and creating a more sustainable future is our duty to the future generation. However, the window of opportunity for us to act is fast closing.

The question is, what do we do next? As organisations continue to generate, process and store copious volumes of data, they should leverage a ‘cloud-first’ strategy to create a highly sustainable approach for data storage. This can significantly lower their carbon footprint and make a more meaningful impact on our environment.

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Senior Vice President and General Manager, APAC, NetApp