A commitment to ESG: CyrusOne & the sustainable data centre

We explore the importance of ESG and sustainable practices within the data centre industry with CyrusOne’s Director of Sustainability Mark Moloney

CyrusOne is a leading global data centre developer and operator that specialises in delivering global digital infrastructure solutions. The company works to ensure that data remains people-focused by following industry best practices and harnessing cutting-edge technologies, including those that promote sustainability.

With these commitments in mind, Data Centre Magazine speaks with Mark Moloney, Director of Sustainability in Europe at CyrusOne. With responsibility for the development and execution of the company’s European sustainability strategy, Moloney’s role involves providing guidance on national and international sustainability legislation, such as the European Energy Efficiency Directive, and the German Energy Efficiency Act.

A journey towards ESG and its importance in the data centre industry

Data centres are currently responsible for 1.5% of global energy consumption and, as of September 2023, this is expected to reach 8% by 2030.

In recent years, sustainability has been more of a key focus when designing new data centres. Therefore, finding ways to conserve energy is now vital, with the industry seeking to increase capacity in a more energy-efficient and renewable way. Ultimately, the goal is that improving ESG performance will improve data centre performance, with higher uptime and lower power and water usage. 

Despite originally coming from a background in engineering and data centre operations, Moloney has always had a keen interest in sustainability. He started his career as a network manager, before moving to work at data centre real estate investment company, Digital Realty, as its European Technical Operations Director and then Director of Connectivity.

Moloney’s job sees him collaborate with CyrusOne's design teams to align sustainability goals across all its data centres. He communicates the sustainability vision across the business, as well as the wider data centre industry.

“All industries have an obligation to minimise their impact on the environment and the data centre industry is no exception,” Maloney says “At CyrusOne, we recognise that building and operating large data centres leads to a geographic concentration of environmental impacts, even if the total impact is reduced compared to the inefficiencies of smaller data rooms. 

“Being a leader in this industry means embracing our responsibility for reducing those impacts. This includes efficient governance practices and also having a positive impact on our teammates, community members, suppliers and our customers.” 

He continues: “Transparency is a guiding principle in our efforts and we have released annual sustainability reports detailing our ESG strategy and progress towards our ambitious goals. Some of our most recent milestones include powering our facilities with more than 50% of zero carbon sources and restoring more water than we use for all of our data centres in regions with extremely high water stress.” 

Strategy, site selection, sustainability: Three pillars crucial to ESG success

Moloney believes that data centre location can impact ESG success. “To support our success in a particular location we undergo a rigorous site selection process,” he explains. “When reviewing potential new locations, we focus on sites that are already designated for data centres or similar uses via zoning, or in existing planned developments such as technology or business parks.

“This selection process, which includes assessments of environmental impact and protected areas, provides us with confidence that our facilities will not have adverse effects on important wildlife habitats.”

He continues: “By thoroughly understanding the sensitive ecosystems present on or near our sites, we can proactively anticipate and address potential impacts during the site selection process. We also use climate risk assessment techniques to evaluate factors such as future flood risk and water stress that may impact our operational success.

Now more than ever, those within the industry are seeking to prioritise energy efficiency and reduce power consumption at data centre sites.

To this, Moloney says: “As we advance towards our Climate Neutral by 2030 goal, we consider the carbon emissions intensity of the local electricity grid and the local availability of renewable energy purchasing opportunities. All aspects of our site selection strategy enable us to prioritise sites that align with our ESG goals and facilitate our transition towards a more sustainable future.

“At CyrusOne, we have long had a strategic focus on efficiency. We are known for building data centres quickly and effectively due to detailed planning and a standardised design. Our standard design for new data centres incorporates many energy efficiency measures. We consider the current best practices in the industry, partner with suppliers and take innovative approaches in design and construction to achieve cost-effective efficiency.”

For its existing facilities, CyrusOne is aiming to reduce energy and carbon emissions, with hope to do this through smart operational practices and facility upgrades including using building management systems, airflow modelling and balancing cooling delivery with server needs.

Moloney explains that the company is wanting to prioritise upgrades for its least efficient facilities, as well as in regions that have the highest carbon intensity of the local grid. In the same vein, CyrusOne is working to maintain a commitment towards institutional integrity and ethics throughout the organisation. 

Speaking on the importance of transparent governance practices, Moloney says: “CyrusOne is committed to institutional integrity and ethics throughout our organisation. We seek to ensure the highest standards of business conduct while maintaining transparency with our employees, customers, and communities in which we operate.” 

He continues: “We treat transparency as our guiding principle in an attempt to honestly analyse our sustainability programs and report the areas that need improvement along with our successes. 

“We promote the water-saving cooling we use at many facilities, but we also disclose the number of facilities in our portfolio that still consume large amounts of water. Reporting water consumption in our industry is rare, despite the substantial amounts of water that is used in traditional cooling technology like evaporative cooling. 

“By reporting our own water consumption, we hope that we can encourage others in the industry to follow suit and to work together to develop reporting standards to integrate water into energy and carbon reporting to tell the full picture of a data centre's impact on resources and the local region.”

Data centres harnessing the potential of future technologies

Legislation is often important within the data centre industry as it often ensures that the ambitious climate targets set by businesses are met. Through an ESG lens, CyrusOne hopes that its future sees the improvement of capturing waste heat from data centres. 

Moloney says: “We have set lofty ESG goals for ourselves and thanks to the dedication of our teams, have managed to meet some of these earlier than planned, such as how as of June 2021, CyrusOne’s European facilities met their 2030 carbon reduction commitments to the Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact eight years early, achieving 100% renewable electricity.

However, despite these achievements, Moloney acknowledges that there is still progress to be made. He says: “There is more we want to achieve by 2030, including upgrading infrastructure to make it sustainable, increased resource-use efficiency and greater adoption of clean technologies and processes.”

He continues: “We are exploring innovative ways to be able to better capture and distribute heat at high temperatures that have the potential to heat homes, businesses and other buildings.

“We are also seeing the rapid deployment of AI technologies. AI-specific tools will likely advance our ability to manage and manipulate large volumes of data. This will enable us to make better decisions regarding ESG faster and more accurately. 

“AI deployments also present new opportunities to move outside of existing areas and give us flexibility to site in areas with substantial and available carbon-free power and other resources.”

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