Data Centers and Mount Sustainability

Mount-SustainableThis year Ray Anderson, often called the “greenest CEO in America” has passed away. Mr. Anderson was the founder of Interface, one of the world’s largest producer of commercial carpet tiles. After 20 years, running his business in compliance with government regulations, he read in 1994 Paul Hawken’s book “The Ecology of Commerce,” which gave him a new understanding of how business practices could damage the environment. From that point forward, he pursued what he called “Mission Zero”: to make Interface fully sustainable by 2020 through the use of recycled materials and renewable energy sources.

He walked the talk and fifteen years later after his call for change there were some impressive results:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions cut by 82%
  • Fossil fuel consumption by 60%
  • Cut waste by 86%
  • Cut water use by 75%

And at the same time increased sales by 66% and doubled earnings.

In the data center world we have  discussions about energy consumption, E-waste, green IT and we are working on the PUE, WUE and CUE metrics of the Green Grid. But do we have the same kind of impressive results?

In his book “Confessions of a radical industrialist”, Anderson explains how he created a model of profitable sustainability. According to Anderson our industrial system today, inherited from the steam-driven days of the first industrial evolution 18th century, is primarily linear, with “Take-Make-Waste” processes. What does this mean? In short: “materials are extracted from the earth’s crust, transported to manufacturing sites, used to produce products (all materials not part of end product are discarded as waste), then products are transported to users and finally, at the end-of-life, discarded as waste”.

The implicit assumption of this production system is that we have infinite resources. Now we now better, fossil fuels are limited, rare earth elements in electronic components are scarce, water is scarce. So by definition this way of producing is unsustainable. Anderson states in his book that every company has to face three ecological challenges:

  • What we take from earth
  • What we make and what collateral damage we do in the making of it
  • What we waste along the way, from source to the landfill

Within Ray’s company this lead in 1994 to the mission and aim for zero waste and zero environmental impact: Mission Zero or in Ray’s terms climbing Mount Sustainability. To reach this summit of Mount Sustainability the Interface enterprise defined seven paths:

  1. Moving toward zero waste
  2. Increasingly diminish emissions along the supply chain
  3. Increasing efficiency and using more and more renewable energy
  4. Closing-loop recycling
  5. Resource efficient transportation
  6. Creating commitment (sensitivity hook up all along the supply chain
  7. Redesign commerce

Nevertheless this clear and distinctive steps, this isn’t an easy ride. Anderson regular quotes Albert Einstein “Problems cannot be solved by the same thinking used to create them”, innovative thinking is key to get results.

In the data center industry we have the same kind of issues as Anderson is describing for the carpet industry. The only difference is that Ray Anderson started already in 1994 with addressing these problems and showed some impressive results.

So why not prepare your self for the new year and read Anderson’s book to get inspiration for your Sustainable Data Center and balancing the complexities of the triple bottom line: people, planet and profits?

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