Achieving Carbon Neutrality: A Mission Critical Company's Lessons Learned

Lee Kirby, Co-Founder and Chairman of Salute Mission Critical
Lee Kirby, Co-Founder and Chairman of <a href='' rel='nofollow' target='_blank' !important'>Salute Mission Critical</a>

Lee Kirby, Co-Founder and Chairman of Salute Mission Critical

As a data center (and really any company), it is now more important than ever to become carbon neutral or at the very least to have higher sustainability standards. Carbon neutrality means balancing between emitting carbon and absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. With sustainability currently trending as a top-of-mind issue in data center management, given that data centers consume an estimated 200 terawatt hours (TWh) each year, pioneering new sustainable strategies can be a competitive advantage and lower the costs for data centers and other industries alike. In conclusion, embracing change and moving from traditional to highly effective sustainability standards is critical for making the ethical impacts needed to turn the current environmental trajectory around.

On A Mission To Achieve NetZero

As the Co-Founder of a 10-year-old global data center services company, Salute Mission Critical, and with over 40 years in the tech industry, I can confidently say we have helped the world's most sophisticated hyperscalers, colo providers and edge operators efficiently transition to more sustainable practices. With that repertoire, Salute has perfected a model to optimize operations, reduce operating expenses, and minimize risk. The advantage of this model has an enormous commercial impact through enhanced cost savings and a societal impact through reduced energy consumption.

Lessons Learned: Becoming A Green Data Center

Follow this holistic approach from the lessons we learned to transition your data center operations strategy to be more sustainable:

Your workforce is the key element - Without appropriately training, providing resources and incentivizing your workforce with the tools to embed sustainability across all job functions, none of the other steps matter. The first step in developing a sustainable workforce is creating a plan for activities and programs that are created to nurture the personal and professional development of all employees. With the right culture, processes, and tools, an organization can be flexible and armed with the confidence required to implement effective changes.

A proper workforce development strategy should be broken down into 4 parts: 

  •  Education

  •  Community Support

  •  Job/Skills Training

  •  Goals

Lifecycle analysis’ and audits can help map out a sustainability roadmap - Incorporating audits and a lifecycle analysis can help you make informed decisions regarding design and operational activities that contribute to and reduce a data center’s environmental impact.

Important audits include:

  • Dematerialization - identifies infrastructure and IT hardware that can be reduced, replaced or optimized 

  • Design and Planning Review - reviewing the difference between building a data center with wood versus concrete and assessing liquid emersion cooling versus air cooling

  • Full Emissions - measuring emissions associated with the purchase of all equipment

  • Greenhouse (GHG) Emissions - verifying emissions associated with the purchase of electricity, heat, steam, goods, business travel, commuting, waste management, transportation, distribution, investments and asset

  • Prioritizing resources and goods - The most important factors to effectively prioritize resources include:

  • reducing electrical power generation from fossil fuels

  • proactively reducing water consumption and researching local water supplynot throwing away decommissioned equipment, using certified recycling and leveraging sustainable goods / personal protect equipment (PPE)

  • make informed decisions on predictive maintenance plans with a focus on thresholds, risk mitigation, and optimization of contractors

Measurement and goal setting defines your success - As with most programs, the first step is to baseline the current situation with comprehensive data to do two things; develop goals that will drive change and make informed decisions that will have a positive improvement. The UN has 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) that are big and revolutionary, not just incremental changes. We’ve all seen companies announce big sustainability goals like “carbon neutral by 2030” or “reduce emissions by 50%”. These are the types of goals that require fundamental and innovative changes to business models. In goal setting, it’s also important that we have incremental steps and targets that are achievable but also measurable. You can start with the top 5 most common data center measurement metrics:

  • Data Center Infrastructure Efficiency (DCIE)

  • Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE)

  • Carbon Usage Effectiveness (CUE)

  • Water Usage Effectiveness (WUE)

  • Electronics Disposal Efficiency (EDE)

The key to effectively managing the life cycle of the data center is to align industry standards and metrics with customer stakeholders and implement the Key Performance Indicators (KPI) that most effectively reflect performance against sustainability objectives. The wealth of standards and metrics that have been identified must be integrated into an operational scheme that drives performance and continuous improvement. With KPI’s established, having goals associated with a sustainability roadmap can help facilities improve upon future sustainability implementation.

The World’s Most Urgent Mission

Even with over 40 years of experience, the industry is changing every day. The type of infrastructure that data centers support today is different from a few years ago. Greater density levels, new types of workloads and a vast reliance on data create a redesign mentality for data center leaders. As the main climate indicators are not showing signs of improvement, Science tells us that unless we cut fossil fuel production by 6% every year between now and 2030, things will get worse. This guide will get you started implementing this change but we must act now and continuously seek to achieve even greater efficiencies in the future. It is our duty to be the change and make a difference for generations to come.

Lee Kirby Bio: With more than 40 years of experience in information technology and systems, both in the private and public sectors, Lee has dedicated himself to being a servant leader in the tech industry and changing the lives of military families worldwide.

Lee has successfully led several technology startups, turnarounds and built/run world-class global operations. He is recognized globally for improving the performance of critical infrastructure through sustainable solutions that reduce operating costs and driving industry trends in operational excellence. His current passion is Salute Mission Critical, a premier global data center services company, launched in 2013 and founded to provide military veterans and their families with careers. His philanthropy has helped solve the industry’s talent shortage and the societal problem of veteran and military spouse unemployment.

In addition to an MBA from the University of Washington and further studies at Henley School of Business in London and Stanford University, Lee holds professional certifications of ITIL v3 Expert, Lean Six Sigma, and CCO. He serves as a frequent contributor to many industry conferences and publications. In addition, he has masterfully balanced a successful military career over 36 years (Ret. Colonel) and serves as an advisor to many veteran support organizations.