In the transition to a circular economy for any industry, the responsibilities boil down to designing out waste and pollution, and extending the life of products and materials. That calls for a transition to green and renewable energy sources, the reuse of excess heat and a complete redesign of all the building blocks that make up the data centre, says eBay’s data centre and network manager, Armand Verstappen
The circular economy refers to a departure from our current linear ‘take-make-dispose’ model. It is a regenerative system in which resource input and waste, emission, and energy leakage are minimized by slowing, closing, and narrowing energy and material loops
In the long-run it is the appetite for sustainability that is driving demand for a circular economy. Continuing the linear model of ‘take-make-dispose’ indefinitely is impossible, as we will run out of fossil fuels and other finite resources. The ‘dispose’ part of the model is already pulling us in the direction of adverse climate change, polluted oceans and ever-increasing landfills.
But presently competitive incentives, new regulations and government coercion is encouraging the switch. Turning waste into resources helps drive down costs, and the industry has to adhere to an increasing number of regulations designed to drive down CO2 emissions. The fact that many local, regional and state government bodies are now formally committed to the transition towards a circular economy is a key motivator for businesses competing to sell products or services to these entities.
This transition is in the interest of all of current and future humanity. The data centre industry consumes vast amounts of energy. Reports claim that the industry uses between one and five percent of all the electricity generated worldwide. According to some prognoses, the European data centre industry will double its energy intake in the next five years. So, when looking at this question from a “fair share” perspective, the responsibility is huge.
Another way to look at it is that the industry has a responsibility of self-preservation, as a lot of the digital transformations taking place right now are relying on data centres to run workloads, and some of them are enablers of a more circular economy.
To continue to support these transformations, we should transform ourselves and begin to find ways to alleviate the pressure we put on the power grid in many areas of the world. Apart from power, our use of batteries needs attention as well. They use a mass of finite resources and produce a lot of waste, so there is work to be done.
The circular economy spirit
Let’s return to the first few foundational principles of the circular economy as formulated by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation : to design out waste and pollution; to keep products and materials in use; and to regenerate natural systems.
In order to design out waste you need to be using renewable energy; in order to design out pollution, you also need to use green energy. A drive for better power usage efficiency has been part of the industry DNA for quite a while now.