Data Center Frontier Editor Rich Miller recently had a conversation about the future of sustainable data centers, with Kevin Hagen, Director, Corporate Responsibility at Iron Mountain, and Alex Sharp, Global Head of Design & Construction – Data Centers at Iron Mountain. For more insights, register for a webinar Wednesday.

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Rich Miller (RM): Let’s start with the big picture. How would you assess the data center industry’s progress on green data centers and sustainability?

Kevin Hagen (KH): What we’re learning is that social responsibility isn’t a tax on the good guys. It requires us to think differently about business, to think like systems thinkers, and to get more outside our walls.

Kevin Hagen, Vice President Environment, Social & Governance (ESG) Strategy at Iron Mountain.

When we hold ourselves to the higher expectation of delivering these innovations, we actually are finding new ways to do things that are better for the business, better for the environment, and better for the community. It actually isn’t a trade-off: you don’t have to choose between doing the right thing, and doing the green or socially responsible thing.

Renewable energy is a great example. In the early days it was perceived as more expensive and had all kinds of challenges. But when we work together, as individual organizations and collectively through organizations like the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance and the Future of Internet Power working group to develop thought across the industry, we can all take advantage of those efforts.

We realized that over the long term, renewable energy had huge advantages over fossil fuel in the cost of energy. Renewable energy suppliers offer long-term fixed price contracts with a lot less risk factored into the pricing, and the price stability that our customers love. There was this sudden realization that what we thought was more expensive is actually the cheapest.

There’s just so many ways in which the old stereo-type of the trade-off is about to get blown up. And we need to hold ourselves to the higher standard.

“Renewable energy suppliers offer long-term fixed price contracts with a lot less risk factored into the pricing, and the price stability that our customers love.” – Kevin Hagen, Iron Mountain

This is an incredibly innovative, creative industry. What we know is we’re probably thinking too small. We need to keep making these improvements but also think about the bigger picture, so that we can keep finding the breakthrough opportunities that change the picture.

data center of the future

Alex Sharp, Global Head of Design and Construction at Iron Mountain

RM:  Let’s talk about construction. How do you approach sustainable construction that and how is the process different from the way things have always been done?

Alex Sharp (AS): One of the key points in construction is that you have to start looking at it right from the outset of design, because if you don’t, you’ll miss opportunities. And as we all know, doing anything retrospectively is expensive.

The other thing that we need to see is that environmental sustainability issues in construction need to be treated like health and safety are, where they’re not negotiable. They are absolutely first items on the agenda.

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We need to look at the removal of waste from the construction site, and look at recyclable products and the content of the materials that we use to build out data centers. We’re minimizing on waste, and we’re looking at reverse logistics so that if equipment has packaging with it, that the packaging is taken away on the vehicle. This may seem very simple, but not many people look at these things with that level of detail.

I think it’s also about looking at cleaner technologies. A staple of our industry is the diesel generator. We’ll be looking at things that are a lot cleaner in terms of the emissions, like gas generation with biomass. We will look at whether we could potentially convert the waste heat from our plant back into energy. And by ensuring all of our data centers and powered by renewable energies.

Catch up on the first three entries in this special report series below:

Download the full report, Green Data Centers and The Sustainability Imperative, courtesy of Iron Mountain, to explore how climate change and sustainable data centers are changing the industry. 

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