How a data centre from 2010 is helping Capgemini towards its 2020 sustainability goals

Seven years on from the opening of one of the most sustainable data centres in the world, IT consulting firm Capgemini is still using the key learnings from the low-carbon project to "accelerate" beyond its carbon reduction goals.

Global IT consultancy Capgemini is three-quarters of the way towards a carbon target for 2020. The newest version of the company’s sustainability report – released last month – revealed that the company had recorded a 16% reduction in total carbon emissions since 2014, meaning it had surpassed its carbon goal one year ahead of schedule.

Read the full case study of Capgemini’s Merlin data centre here

Data centres account for 40% of Capgemini’s total emissions and 70% of energy use, and the company has leaned on the best practice established from a flagship project in 2010, to drive its carbon agenda.

Capgemini’s Merlin data centre opened in 2010, offering a worldwide, industry-first for data centre energy efficiency, otherwise known as Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE). Even though the industry average for PUE has improved from 2 – 2.5 in 2010 to around 1.8 today, the Merlin centre’s 1.08 reading is rivalled only by a few. For example, technology giant Facebook designed a data centre in Prineville, Ore., to have a PUE of 1.07, while Google claims that its data centres have an average PUE of 1.12.

The Merlin centre is acting as the catalyst for energy efficiency and carbon reduction at Capgemini, but as the firm’s global head of corporate sustainability James Robey explains, the success of the Merlin project isn’t easily replicated.

“The desire of the Merlin centre was to see what was feasible,” Robey told edie. “But there’s also a commercial aspect, the lower the PUE, the less you spend on energy. We have, wherever possible, taken the learnings from Merlin and applied them to our other centres.

“The challenge with the other centres is that they are on leases of varying length and time, and economically you can’t just change all other centres overnight.”

The latest carbon reductions were accelerated through a 10% reduction in emissions in 2016 alone. Last year’s reductions were largely generated through the consolidation of data centres, including the closure of an older, less efficient centre. The closure reduced overall emissions by 2,077 tCO2e with the four remaining data centres achieving a cumulative emissions reduction of 3,729 tCO2e.

Between 2015 and 2016, Capgemini implemented some of the techniques and learning practices from Merlin into other centres, resulting in a 14% reduction in overall data centre energy consumption. However, the closure of the older centre and the continuous rebalancing of the portfolio has had an impact in the utilisation of centres, leading to a “temporary increase” in PUE. Capgemini claims that once the new implementations and improvements come into effect, some already have as of late-2016, the trend will reverse in 2017. Overall PUE could even fall below 1.5 by 2020.

Science-based targets

Robey was quick to note that the ongoing success at Merlin, and the overall decarbonisation of the data centre portfolio, doesn’t diminish the importance of other areas of the carbon strategy.

Capgemini’s UK operations were the first in the sector to publish approved science-based targets and Robey notes efforts are being made to continue steady improvements across other areas.

“When we set the science-based target, it was across travel, office and data centres,” Robey added. “While data emissions have significantly dropped, it’s not the only place. Energy use in offices has fallen by 28% as well.

“There’s reductions across the patch, but because of the sheer magnitude of their energy consumption, the efficiency initiatives and the rationalisation programmes in the data centre have given an acceleration to the overall programme. Just because the data centres are helping us get there a little bit faster, doesn’t reduce any of the pressure on the work we’re doing with office, and business travel.”

With a boardroom committed to intertwining the finance and sustainability departments, Capgemini will focus on an array of new initiatives to hit the science-based goals to reduce emissions per employee by 20% by 2020 before reaching a 40% reduction for 2030.

The full ‘in practice’ case study of Capgemini’s Merlin data centre can be read here.

Matt Mace

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