Deborah Andrews, lead partner of CEDaCI and associate professor of design at LSBU, unpacks the project aiming to develop a robust, secure and economically viable supply chain for data centre equipment
The origins of the circular economy can be traced back to the Swiss architect and economist Walter Stahel, who coined the term “cradle to cradle” as an alternative to the established product paradigm of cradle to grave.
The concept has since developed to incorporate a service economy (such as those offered by the likes of car-sharing service Zip Car), extending products’ life through reuse remanufacture and repair as well as recycling at end-of-life.
Thanks in part to advocacy from yachtswoman Ellen McArthur who was horrified by the plastic and other waste that she witnessed on her voyage around the world, the circular economy is now mainstream and being put forward as a serious alternative to the Linear ‘take-make-use-and dispose’ model.
Squaring the circle
Enter the data centre. The bricks and mortar foundation to the digital world that demand uninterrupted customer service and whose growth continues unabated; whether it’s colocation facilities provided by Equinix or Flexential or the huge hyperscalers constructed by Facebook and Google. At present, just 10 percent of the critical raw materials (CRM) from the data centre sector are recycled and recovered.
Deborah Andrews, associate professor of design at London South Bank University’s (LSBU) School of Engineering is one of a number of experts calling for the application of circular economy principles to the data centre to mitigate this mounting pile of material.
Deborah has been involved in sustainability-related research and teaching for over 20 years, a period through which the concept of sustainable building design has shifted from “innovative” to “mainstream”, as the world belatedly wakes up to issues of resource demand, population growth and waste.
Deborah’s turn to the data centre occurred when, almost a decade ago, she was invited by colleagues to supervise a PhD about data centres.
“The focus was a lifecycle / environmental impact assessment of the buildings and IT equipment and focussed on embodied impacts rather than energy consumption and operational impacts. The subject was really interesting and innovative, and, until then, there was very little research in this area.”