When it comes to the climate impact of its data center operations, Digital Realty will follow the science. On Thursday the data center developer said it will work with The Science-Based Targets Initiative to ensure that its sustainability program adapts to the full scope and urgency of the global climate challenge.
As the landlord for 267 data centers across the globe representing more than 1.2 gigawatts of power capacity, Digital Realty can have a huge impact on the emissions impact of IT infrastructure. With its recent acquisition of Interxion, the company supports the IT operations of more than 4,000 companies.
“Here at Digital Realty, we believe we have an obligation to identify and implement ways to decarbonize the power sourced for our data centers, drive greater energy efficiency and curb carbon emissions,” said CEO Bill Stein in a blog post. “We are taking another significant step in our sustainability journey by becoming the first data center operator of our size and global reach to commit to setting a target with the Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTi).”
In announcing the commitment, Digital Realty is aiming to move beyond symbolic efforts or targets tied to a single strategy. With the cloud computing sector under scrutiny from Greenpeace and others, data center operators are stepping up their efforts to be part of the climate solution, rather than part of the problem.
Green Initiatives Across Many Fronts
The Science-Based Targets Initiative sets carbon emission reduction targets backed by climate science rather than internally self-defined parameters. Digital Realty will partner with SBTi to develop precise targets by year-end, which will be designed to bring its emissions in-line with a “significantly below two-degree” climate change scenario by 2030.
According to SBTi, corporate targets to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are considered “science-based” if they are in line with what the latest climate science says is necessary to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement – to limit global warming to well-below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C.
In practice, the commitment to SBTi’s principles will drive a more comprehensive and diversified response to climate risk, which will expand beyond the company’s established efforts in energy efficiency and renewable power purchases, but also prioritize water stewardship, green bonds, and climate resilience strategies. The builds on an evolving effort to add components to the company’s sustainability toolkit. These initiatives include:
- Digital Realty has begun working with Nalco Water to optimize water use at its data center through reduction, reuse and recycle projects. A data center’s impact on local water supplies can be significant. In 2018, Digital Realty’s portfolio used more than 1.4 billion gallons of water, 35 percent of which came from reclaimed, non-potable sources. The company says that its use of free cooling (economization) in its data centers has saved 1.03 billion gallons of water per year.
- In April, Digital Realty announced a new 7.5-year power and renewable energy credit agreement with Citi to supply wind energy for Digital Realty’s 13 data centers in the Dallas area, equivalent to about 30 percent of the power needs in the Dallas market. The deal provides Digital Realty with over 260,000 megawatt-hours of renewable energy annually from the Bearkat Wind Energy II project on Glasscock County, Texas. The wind power agreement builds on Digital Realty’s green strategy. In 2019, the company announced an additional 50 megawatts of renewables to support its data centers in Ashburn, Virginia and signed a green tariff agreement with Portland General Electric to supply approximately 120,000 megawatt-hours annually to a new project in Hillsboro, Oregon.
- In 2019 the company earned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ENERGY STAR certification for exemplary energy performance in 29 of its data centers, representing 70 percent of the company’s U.S. stabilized and managed portfolio. To date, Digital Realty has earned 65 green building certifications globally, totaling more than 650 megawatts of IT capacity.
- In January, Digital Realty sold €850 million in green bonds (debt issued to fund projects with positive environmental or climate benefits).
“Sustainable solutions consistently show they can compete with — and beat — ‘business-as-usual’ solutions,” said Stein. “Joining this initiative is a significant opportunity to deliver a more sustainable platform of solutions to our customers and the global economy. We hope more in our industry will join us so that together we can grow our industry and the digital economy while addressing climate change and driving sustainable innovation.”