Towards Sustainable Data Centre Operations in the UK

Towards Sustainable Data Centre Operations in the UK

Peter Jones, Robin Bown, David Hillier, Daphne Comfort
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5880-6.ch007
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The purpose of this chapter is to provide an exploratory review of the sustainability agendas being addressed and publicly reported by the UK's leading data centre operators. The chapter begins with a brief discussion of the characteristics of sustainability and an outline of the origins and development of data centres within the UK. The chapter draws its empirical material from the most recent information on sustainability posted on the UK's leading data centre operators' corporate web sites. The findings reveal that all the UK's leading data centre operators provide only limited information on their commitment to sustainability with the dominant focus being on its environmental dimension and with little attention being paid to social and economic issues. More critically, the authors argue that these commitments are driven more by the search for efficiency gains, that they are couched within existing business models centred on continuing growth, and that as such the UK's leading data centre operators are pursuing a ‘weak' rather than a ‘strong' model of sustainability. The chapter suggests that the leading data centre operating companies may need to extend their sustainability reporting and to introduce external assurance procedures.
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The concept of sustainability can be traced back as far as the thirteenth century but in more recent times it re-appeared in the environmental literature in the 1970s (Kamara, Coff, & Wynne, 2006) and since then it has attracted increasingly widespread attention. Diesendorf (2000) has argued that “sustainability” can be seen as “the goal or endpoint of a process called sustainable development” (p.32).The most widely used definition of sustainable development is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987, p.21). However defining this concept is not straightforward and a number of different and contested meanings can be identified.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Sustainability: The creation and maintenance of the conditions in which human beings and nature can co-exist in long term harmony

Weak Sustainability: Natural capital can be exchanged for other forms of capital as development proceeds.

Consumption: The purchase of goods and services by individual members of the public.

Data Centre: A centralized repository for the storage, management and dissemination of data.

Strong Sustainability: Natural capital cannot be exchanged for manmade capital

Sustainability Reporting: The process of providing information about an organisation’s environmental, social and economic performance.

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