Data management is the emissions safeguard we can all get behind

Amy Rushall

Federal government reforms to the “safeguard mechanism” to restrict the carbon emissions of Australia’s top 215 polluters should come as a wake-up call for all major industries, not just the fossil fuel and related sectors.

This is because the safeguard mechanism is just the latest example of a clear trend in Australia and around the world – governments, regulators, and crucially, investor bodies are looking very closely at how directors and senior management account for their emissions. We have crossed the Rubicon on emissions reporting and all major industries, including the public sector, are on notice to make real plans to cut carbon output.

The problem is many organisations don’t know where to start.

We know this because a recent investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) into sustainability claims made by 250 businesses found “57 per cent of the businesses made sustainability claims that raised greenwashing concerns”.

Clearly, many companies remain in the dark about how to start reducing emissions.

One solution lies in how they manage their company crown jewels – their data.

Pure Storage A/NZ vice president Amy Rushall

Rather than going down the increasingly controversial path of offsetting, Australian organisations should be focusing on their data management strategies as a path to create measurable, long-term efficiencies in emissions.

This might sound like an obvious area of focus. Yet little attention has so far been giving to it in major Western economies. In a report we commissioned in the US and Europe in 2022, we found that while the vast majority of company sustainability managers agree that companies cannot reach their sustainability goals without significantly reducing their technology infrastructure energy usage, more than half believed sustainability was likely to be overlooked in the selection of data centre vendors.

Anecdotally at least, we see the same thing in Australia. Data management does not appear to be a priority for carbon emissions reduction.

This is a missed opportunity, considering that the amount of data produced and used by Australian organisations continues to rise at exponential levels. The number of data centres in Australia is proof of the rapid rise of the data economy in Australia. Cloudscene estimated recently that Australia has almost 300 data centres, making our economy one of the most heavily served per capita by data centres in the entire world. By comparison, the US, considered to be the world’s leading data centre economy, has just short of 3,200 data centres.

Data is contributing a significant and growing impact on global carbon emissions. It is estimated that data centres alone contribute to as much as 2 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Of course, this is not to say that the path to data led carbon emissions reduction is simple. There are no easy fixes when it comes to sustainability strategies, even with data.

One of the reasons for this may be that historically, it has not been straightforward to accurately account for emissions generated by data – particularly Scope 3 emissions. In recent years, however, there have been significant innovations around this challenge, including tools created by the hyperscalers for their customers to access to help them benchmark and measure emissions. Australian co-location facilities are also increasingly touting their emissions minimising strategies.

While not being perfect, we have reached the point where any organisation which uses data centres can take straightforward, measurable and proven initiatives to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide produced by their data generation, storage and general use.

Measures which companies can take today to benchmark their data centre carbon footprint include building data centres in colder climates; deploying durable and reliable hardware in the case of temperatures spikes; and utilising up to date metrics systems to evaluate energy capacity per watt and performance per watt. Decisions on what technology is used in data centres can also have a big impact on energy consumption. Flash-based storage systems for example, are at a minimum 80 per cent more efficient than hard disk based storage.

All these initiatives can be benchmarked and measured with specific carbon emissions reduction outcomes over specific timeframes. Over time, these measures and others can actually cut running costs, simplify and cool their data centres and reduce energy consumption.

Surely that’s a good place to start.

By Amy Rushall, Vice President for Australia and New Zealand, Pure Storage

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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