Environmental sustainability of data centres: A need for a multi-impact and life cycle approach

Key Messages

  • The concerns over energy use of data centres and associated impacts on climate change have attracted efforts to reduce data centres’ energy demand during operations.
  • The focus on reducing climate change related impacts arising from data centres’ operations can overlook relevant environmental impacts from other life cycle stages, including raw material extraction, equipment manufacturing, data centre construction, end of life of equipment and data centre buildings.
  • To support the design of truly sustainable data centres, more comprehensive environmental sustainability assessments, encompassing the entire life cycle and factoring in a broad spectrum of environmental problems, are needed.
  • This issue brief uses examples to showcase the substantial environmental impacts of data centres stemming from other life cycle stages than their operations and calls for the use of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to assess and address such impacts.