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The rising importance of data center sustainability


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The rising importance of data center sustainability


For companies that own, operate or lease data centers, the sustainability of those facilities has become important in today's business environment. Within the spectrum of sustainability, however, there are multiple aspects that companies should consider and be prepared to act on. Thus far, much of the focus remains on renewable energy, but we anticipate that as companies neutralize the energy they consume with carbon-free energy sources, factors such as diesel generation and water usage will become the focal points. These issues are reflected in the responses to our Voice of the Enterprise: Data centers, Sustainability 2022 survey. Fielded from March through May with a panel of 737 IT decision-makers, the survey explores companies' views on data center sustainability and the actions being taken in this area.

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As companies dig into the greenhouse gas emissions associated with operating the business, it has become clear for tech-heavy industries that the data centers running their digital infrastructure require some attention. With our second consecutive Voice of the Enterprise survey on data center sustainability, we continue to monitor business sentiments and the actions being taken for the sake of sustainability among data center users. Regardless of company size and whether the company has set sustainability goals, more than half of our survey respondents feel that the efficiency and sustainability of their data centers are very important issues. This is a good thing; we anticipate that percentage will only grow over time.

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Summary of findings

* Companies are setting sustainability goals, and confidence is cautiously high that they will meet those goals. Two-thirds of respondents (66%) indicate that the company they work for has set sustainability goals. As one might guess, company size plays a role here. On closer inspection, only 43% of companies with 250 employees or less have set sustainability goals, while about 70% of companies with more than 250 employees have done so.

Among respondents who say their company has set sustainability goals, more than half (58%) feel it is very likely they will achieve those goals, while another 39% feel it is somewhat likely. Here, too, company size plays a role, with smaller companies displaying a higher level of confidence. For companies with fewer than 250 employees, 69% feel it is very likely they will meet their sustainability goals, while 51% of their peers who work for companies with greater than 10,000 employees feel the same. Anecdotally, of the less than 3% who feel it is unlikely they will meet their goals, lack of priority or lack of budget is most often cited as the reason.

* Efficiency and sustainability are top of mind, with renewable energy seen as the path forward. More than half (54%) of the respondents who work for companies that leverage data centers, either owned or leased, feel that the efficiency and sustainability of those data centers are very important to the organization. Another third (30%) feel they are somewhat important. When we dig into the key performance indicators most important regarding efficiency and sustainability, 44% of respondents indicate that energy consumption offset by 100% renewable sources is the most important to achieve.

Interestingly, in this survey, respondents put a slightly higher priority on moving away from diesel generators (13%) than getting power usage effectiveness ratios to 1.2 or below (10%). Later in the survey, 28% of respondents who state their company is building new data centers to improve their carbon footprint say they are doing so by not having diesel generators at the new sites. Also somewhat interesting to note anecdotally is that low or no water usage is rising in importance this year, over last (7% versus 4%).

* Improving carbon footprint is among the reasons organizations plan to open new data centers. Nearly one-third (29%) of the companies surveyed state that they intend to open a new data center in the near future, while another 16% state they have just recently opened a new facility. When asked about the drivers behind opening those data centers, the top responses are to extend the organization's global reach (33%), because the organization is headquartered in this region (32%), to support partner strategies/initiatives (32%) and to improve the organization's carbon footprint (32%), e.g., consolidating to an area with a cleaner energy mix.

* Enterprise data center closure is still linked to public cloud migration, with improving carbon footprint also on the list. Of the companies that plan to close data centers in the near future (17%) or that have recently closed data centers (13%), the primary driver for the closures is migration to public cloud services (42%). Furthermore, more than one-third (40%) are closing data centers because IT infrastructure transformation has allowed for consolidation, while 22% state that data center sites are simply overbuilt, with both perspectives perhaps reflecting an orientation toward energy conservation.

More than one-quarter (27%) are closing data centers because of IT budget reductions. Yet another 17% of respondents state that data centers are being closed to improve the organization's carbon footprint. Among companies that reported data center closures as a means of carbon footprint improvement, many noted that the older data centers were located in areas with carbon-dense energy mixes, that they consumed too much water, or that they were underutilized.

The 451 Research Voice of the Enterprise: Data centers, Sustainability 2022 survey was carried out between March 31, 2022, and May 12, 2022. The survey represents approximately 737 completes from pre-qualified IT decision-makers in our proprietary global panel of enterprise end users, including IT and line-of-business decision-makers. Sampling is representative of small, midsized and large enterprises in private and public sectors.

This article was published by S&P Global Market Intelligence and not by S&P Global Ratings, which is a separately managed division of S&P Global.

451 Research is part of S&P Global Market Intelligence. For more about 451 Research, please contact

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