How a circular data centre approach can slash CO2 and TCO by 25%

How a circular data centre approach can slash CO2 and TCO by 25%

A new report from ITRenew has revealed a new model to help the global data centre industry unlock the full economic value of data centre hardware while optimising sustainability.

The report titled, ‘The financial and sustainability case for circularity’ is built from extensive market research, expert interviews, and proprietary data sets derived from collaboration with the world’s leading hyperscalers.

ITRenew conducted a full lifecycle analysis for rack-scale open hardware solutions inclusive of both operational and embodied carbon impact.

This comprehensive approach makes it possible, for the first time, to accurately calculate the aggregate lifetime-value potential of data centre equipment; and to quantify the financial and environmental impact of business decisions throughout the manufacturing, primary use, re-use and post-use phases of that technology. 

The result is a detailed circular data centre model that businesses can utilise now to significantly improve upon wasteful and financially disadvantageous deploy-and-dispose behaviour pervasive in data centres today.

The research also disproves the myth that financial success and environmental responsibility are mutually exclusive.

Extensive analysis proves that hardware circularity – keeping assets in their highest utility for as long as possible – can have significant transformative effects on business models, revenue growth and market access across the data centre ecosystem.

The data shows that not only does it potentially create nearly $50 billion in new financial opportunities annually for the largest hyperscale players in the market, but also democratises access and opens up a host of new economic and societal benefits by making premium technology available to, and affordable for, the broader ecosystem.

Data centre growth has been explosive over recent years – and so has the amount of data centre waste.

Even with an active global campaign to reduce greenhouse gases, emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the digital environment in Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries have risen by 450 million tonnes since 2013, according to Shift Project.

Worse still, since 2000, e-waste amounts have grown from 20 million to 50 million tonnes per year; by 2021 this figure will surpass 52 million tonnes, and is on pace reach  a staggering 120m tonnes annually by 2050, according to a 2019 report from the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) and the UN E-Waste Coalition.

If these trends continue, the Semiconductor Industry Association projects that computer power consumption is forecasted to exceed global energy production by 2040.

ITRenew’s data centre impact report reveals that the adoption of circularity is already having a significant and material impact for data centre owners, enterprises and the broader IT ecosystem adopters on a worldwide scale.

Conservative estimates show that if this continues and the global IT hardware industry utilises this approach wholesale, there is the potential to cut total cost of ownership (TCO) of data centre hardware by 24% to 31% and slash the greenhouse gas impact of the data centre sector by nearly 25%.

Ali Fenn, president of ITRenew commented, “Keeping assets in their highest utility for as long as possible involves creating secondary and tertiary loops of life for IT hardware that deliver much higher proven lifetime value and lower total cost of ownership for the entire ecosystem.

“Our goal in developing and championing the adoption of a circular data centre model for the IT industry is to prove that maximising lifetime value, driving sustainability and tackling data centre e-waste on a global scale isn’t some utopian vision, it is real and possible today. The scale of our industry, and the outsized impact we have, makes this both an opportunity and an imperative.”

The expansion in the number of data centres around the world has been driven by the monumental growth in the amount of data that is handled – in 2018 this amounted to 33ZB but by 2025 this is expected to reach 175ZB.

In turn, this growth in data has been fuelled by greater data collection and computation required for advanced analytics and machine learning (especially deep learning). On a physical level, this manifests itself as increased infrastructure in the form of hyperscale data centres – centres with the ability to scale rapidly to meet increases in demand – that enable flow, storage and availability for all users of such highly-connected and data-dependent services.

“It’s time to for the industry to adopt a new way of thinking about the economic and environmental value of data centre technology and how that hardware is managed. To ITRenew that has meant creating new markets, business models and reuse pathways that lower total cost of ownership, keep technology out of the waste stream, and significantly reducing the demand for new materials, components and equipment for data centres,” said Aidin Aghamiri, CEO of ITRenew.

“We are starting to witness a shift in long-held attitudes, where our industry is beginning to place a premium on technology reuse and eliminate the false tradeoffs between profitability and sustainability. With the introduction of our first State of the Global Circular

Data Centre Industry report, our goal is to provide the model and framework for any organisation to optimise both the financial value and sustainability of these technologies.”