The concept of a circular economy has gained traction in recent years as a means of reducing environmental impacts, particularly those from the extraction of new materials and from end-of-life disposal. To accomplish this, circular economy emphasizes the design and material selection of products that use less environmentally harmful materials and allow for the product to be refurbished and more easily recycled. This distinction is made in comparison to the current “linear” economy where materials are extracted, formed into products, and then disposed of.
One of the exciting tactics in transitioning to a circular economy is the idea of “dematerialization” or accomplishing the same service with less or no material. As virtual meetings replace air travel and cloud document storage replaces file cabinets, there are true benefits for the environment. Data centers like ours assist in this transformation.
With our own operations, however, our opportunity for circularity tactics is more limited, due to our service-oriented business. However, we are doing what we can to move toward a circular economy. For CyrusOne, this falls largely within three categories: material selection, reduction or elimination, and recycling.
These categories are most apparent within the construction of our facilities. When we construct a facility, we do so with an eye towards circularity and reducing our environmental impacts. This begins with the selection of materials. At CyrusOne we are evaluating the ability to choose materials with a lower environmental impact such as low carbon concrete or steel. CyrusOne also works to “upstream” its construction work. A key part of our Massively Modular design, upstreaming moves some of the initial construction work away from the construction site to supplier facilities which are better able to manage (and potentially reuse) any waste generated. Additionally, by moving work upstream we eliminate the environmental impacts that would have been created when transporting bulkier raw materials to the construction site. Lastly, for waste that is generated at the construction site, we pursue recycling to divert the materials from landfills and keep them in circulation.
Although construction activities offer the largest circularity opportunity for CyrusOne, we haven’t ignored our own ongoing operations. As with construction activities, we look to material selection as a primary means of circularity. For example, we have moved parts of our operations to paperless processes, selecting “no material” as the ultimate sustainable option. Finally, we focus on providing many forms of recycling to customers at our facilities including packaging materials and battery recycling. While we don’t own or manage the servers in our facilities (our customers do that), we do manage the electronic waste and batteries from our operations and employee equipment through responsible recycling.
In these ways, we try to build our data centers with circularity in mind, allowing us to support increased global dematerialization and work toward decreasing our collective environmental and climate impacts.