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Sustainability managers overlook IT carbon emissions

Pure Storage commissioned research reveals Australian sustainability managers are in the dark about reducing data centre energy consumption.

Pure Storage, a pioneer in data storage technology and services, in partnership with The University of Technology Sydney's (UTS) Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF), released a report which revealed an alarming lack of engagement from Australian businesses about the growing level of carbon emissions caused by IT and data centres.  

The report "IT and Data Centre Sustainability in Australia" details attitudes among over 100 sustainability managers surveyed in April and May this year. 

The report exposes the reality that whilst sustainability managers believe they can't meet their sustainability goals without reducing IT and data centre energy use, they don't have the detailed data to make decisions.  

The research highlighted that technology plays a critical, growing role in driving sustainability initiatives: 77% of respondents agreed that organisations cannot reach their sustainability goals without significantly reducing IT and data centre energy usage.  

Furthermore, the role of IT and data centres in sustainability is still low: Over 70% of respondent organisations had sustainability of data centres on their radar, but only 9% were fully considering it.

15% of respondents indicated sustainability issues were a critical consideration for their organisation in procurement for data centre service providers. 29% of respondents' organisations did not consider data centre energy consumption. 22% of respondents thought their organisation pays sufficient attention to data centre energy consumption.  

The research further suggests that data centre operators must improve the quality of sustainability-related data: Only 5% of respondents felt that the quality of sustainability-related data received from data centre service operators was detailed enough. 46% of respondents were receiving no sustainability-related data. 59% of respondents had insufficient or no, sustainability-related data from data centre service operators.  

IT and data centres contribute approximately 1% of global electricity consumption and up to 2% of global carbon emissions (equivalent to the airline industry). According to the International Energy Agency, data centres and transmission networks accounted for 0.9% of global energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. 

The growth in demand for data, including artificial intelligence, can potentially increase the energy consumption of data centre services.  

Australia is one of the most densely served economies by data centres per capita, and revenue in the data centre market is forecasted in Australia to pass USD $5 billion in 2023, with multi-billion dollar long-term investment commitments made by some large providers. 

Australia is considered a global hub for data centre investments due partly to geopolitical, data sovereignty and geographical factors. The market is forecasted to grow at a CAGR of 4.5% to reach USD $6 billion by 2027.  

The rapid growth of Australia's data centre industry comes at a time of increasing climate risks and an unprecedented level of focus from regulators, consumers and investors on how companies reduce emissions. 

Purestorage says It should therefore be concerned that Australian organisations appear not to be taking the steps necessary to consider data centre and IT-related emissions when managing their environmental, social and governance (ESG) and carbon emissions reduction programs. 

As data centre-related energy demands rise, Purestorage says that Australian businesses and policymakers need to avoid adding to the instability of the country's energy grid, as has been the case in other jurisdictions with a high density of data centre penetration.   

Rob Lee, Chief Technology Officer, Pure Storage, says: "With data continuing to grow, energy and space efficiency must play a stronger role in IT and data centre technology selection. IT leaders can and should play a bigger role in their organisation's sustainability initiatives by improving their data storage strategies."

Gordon Noble, Research Director, Business, Economy and Governance, ISF and author of the report IT and Data Centre Sustainability in Australia, says: "Data Centres are exposed to significant ESG risks that have largely escaped the attention of investors and sustainability managers."

"Improved awareness of data centre sustainability is urgent as we move into a new era where businesses rely even more heavily on data in their businesses and depend on energy and cooling intensive data centres."

"There are real and increasing risks for investors, and regulators around uncertainty over how companies manage, account for, and act to reduce their emissions." 

"With the use of data growing ever more exponentially, including with AI and data centres, it is important that organisations recognise the role their IT and data centres are playing in their emissions footprint. There are also implications for government policy makers," says Noble.

Amy Rushall, Area Vice President, Australia & New Zealand, Pure Storage, says: "This report is a wakeup call for both government and private enterprises in Australia that more attention needs to be paid to energy consumption in data centres. The pace of technology adoption will continue to accelerate, but this should not compromise our attention to the environment."

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