Decarbonizing the Data Center – latest data and advice

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Serverfarm recognizes that addressing carbon and GHG emissions is no simple task.

Carbon reduction and long-term data center sustainability is not simply a case of flipping a switch or signing a power purchase agreement (PPA).

At Serverfarm our strategy is based on understanding infrastructure and operations. We constantly seek ways to reduce energy consumption and environmental impact.


Wherever data centers can be modernized for extended whole of life operations, circular economics and improved efficiency, Serverfarm employs the best engineering expertise and deploys its continuously improving InCommand platform to help customers reach their sustainability goals.


In uncertain times authoritative data is key. Recent reports from bodies including the International Energy Authority (IEA) alongside definitions from the World Green Building Council and other industry guidance are helping customers looking to ‘green’ their IT understand what is really meant by data center carbon neutrality.


For anyone interested in different aspects of controlling and eradicating data center carbon emissions listed below are assets and information from relevant sources:

“The top four corporate off-takers of renewables in 2019 were all ICT companies, led by Google.”

In July 2020, the IEA (International Energy Authority) reported that “Hyperscale data center operators in particular are leaders in corporate renewables procurement, particularly through power purchase agreements (PPAs).

It said: “The top four corporate off-takers of renewables in 2019 were all ICT companies, led by Google.” In 2018, Google (10 TWh) and Apple (1.3 TWh) purchased or generated enough renewable electricity to match 100% of their data center energy consumption…Facebook consumed 3.2TWh with Amazon and Microsoft sourcing around half of their data center electricity from renewables.

For more information on global energy, click here.

PPAs are very effective and a popular way to address carbon emissions. PPAs may involve RECs (renewable energy credits) A company may use RECs off-set its carbon production. To learn more a useful guide can be found here:

Embodied Carbon

A data center is also a building the therefore is the sum of its parts and this includes embodied carbon.

The UK Green Building Council reports that “In the building life cycle embodied carbon is the carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) or greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the non-operational phase of the project.”

Says the UKGBC, ‘this includes emissions cause by extraction, manufacture, transportation, assembly, maintenance, replacement, deconstruction, disposal and end of life aspects of the materials and systems that make up a building. The whole life carbon of the building is both the embodied carbon and the carbon associated with operation (heating, cooling, powering, providing water etc). Understanding the relationships between ‘embodied’ carbon and ‘operational’ carbon can assist in determining the overall optimum carbon reductions.’


The graph shows the embodied carbon for the same building in three different scenarios. The first one is a standard new construction, the second is a standard new construction with a low carbon concrete, and the third is reusing an existing building. These scenarios are broken down per material, showing how concrete is the main contributor of embodied carbon in this case.

Serverfarm Chicago Modernization Embodied Carbon Savings

Modernization of data centers, which reuses existing buildings while expanding capacity, can deliver embodied carbon savings of 88% when compared with the material carbon cost of new projects.

To analyze the carbon savings potential from the reuse of an existing facility, Serverfarm asked an independent consultant HKS to calculate the carbon cost of using an existing data center compared with a new build of the same scale.

HKS analyzed Serverfarm’s Chicago facility, a six-story building of just under 150,000 square feet with a capacity for housing more than 4,000 server cabinets. With a rack consumption of 61,320 kWh, the building consumes 25MW of power annually.

The results of the study can be found here.

Reusing this building eliminates the carbon emissions for a standard new construction building resulting in a modeled 88% embodied carbon emission reduction.

Data Center Industry Advice is a group of industry experts which advises that users include Circular Economy principles as part of an organization’s designs or purchases/leases datacenter resources.

It encourages users to think about ‘what the facility was before, and what it could be in the future.’

It says: “Develop a shared ethos within your organization to shift the mindset from “new is better” to “how can we work together to fulfill our sustainability goals? Evaluate the costs and value of re-using materials and infrastructure. Sustainability objectives and business objectives aren’t always diametrically opposed! In many cases, the case for “green” data centers may yield more profits and value.”


Serverfarm’s approach to carbon and other GHGs is built on openness and transparency on infrastructure efficiency and aiding customers to make informed decisions.

Speak with us about how we can help you reach your data center sustainability and carbon reduction goals.