GreenSquareDC: Committed to helping move the data centre industry into a future where wholistic net zero construction is the norm

The built environment has a significant impact on the environment, with buildings generating around 40% of the world’s annual carbon emissions. While many data centre operators have traditionally focused on reducing the operational carbon footprint of their facilities, the industry must also address the embodied carbon footprint embedded in the materials and construction of buildings.

Embodied carbon refers to the carbon emissions associated with building materials’ production, transport, and construction. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), around a third of the carbon emissions generated by the built environment are embodied carbon emissions. This means that reducing embodied carbon is a critical step towards achieving net-zero carbon performance in the data centre industry and the built environment as a whole.

Historically, the data centre industry has focused on reducing operational carbon emissions through the use of renewable energy sources, efficient cooling systems, and other strategies. While these are important steps, they only address a part of the problem. With Scope 3 emissions under the Greenhouse Gas Protocol expected to become a mandatory reporting standard for greenhouse gas emissions, the industry must address embodied carbon to achieve net-zero carbon performance.

One recent report, the UNSW Climate Emergency Guide for the Australian construction industry, recommends the use of the lowest-carbon materials during the construction process as the only way to rapidly move towards net-zero carbon buildings in the short term. Data centre providers like GSDC have committed to achieving net-zero lifetime carbon performance by reducing emissions during construction and implementing operational decarbonisation strategies such as flexible, alternative cooling environments, hydrothermal cooling, 100% renewable energy agreements, and reduced fossil-fuel backup generators.

Reports like the ICE Database from Circular Ecology suggest that embodied carbon can account for between 20% to 50% of the whole-life energy and carbon of buildings when operational energy is considered. This highlights the importance of addressing embodied carbon during the construction phase.

The data centre industry must address embodied carbon to achieve net-zero carbon performance. While operational decarbonisation strategies are essential, reducing embodied carbon emissions during the construction phase is equally crucial. By using the lowest-carbon materials during construction, implementing energy-efficient systems, and adopting renewable energy sources, data centre providers can significantly reduce their carbon footprint and contribute to a more sustainable built environment.