Perspective: Awakening the Sustainability Mindset

Submitted by a first-time PMI San Francisco Bay Area Chapter Sustainability Program attendee:

Dave McCabe

On 20 January 2021, the PMI San Francisco Bay Area Chapter (PMI-SFBAC) hosted an information session on data center sustainability, focusing on water and wastewater impacts, with guest speaker Dave McCabe. Of course, data centers, which many folks simply refer to as “the cloud,” are central to the technology that touches every facet of our lives. As a machine planner myself, who focuses on ordering the right hardware to be put on the floor at the right time, I hadn’t had the opportunity to really dive into the technologies around the physical infrastructure itself. This seminar was a great opportunity to start doing just that.

Direct Evaporative Cooling
Indirect Evaporative Cooling

This seminar helped me really understand how all the dimensions are connected: power usage, server demands, cooling, water, water treatment and the environment as a whole. Specifically, there are some technologies that optimize water, but consume more power to do so. For example, while reclaiming grey water for cooling is a compelling case, one must consider the cost of treating said water for impurities before pushing it through the cooling system of a data center. And considering the entire chain of events, using clean sources of power and/or locating them in a favorable climate can tip the standard Water Usage Effectiveness (WUE) balance from unsustainable to sustainable. And sustainability, while also being just simply the right thing to do, is an important metric for marketing and sales for companies.

Water Utilization Effectiveness

This brings up some more questions as well: What is the optimal balance of water, power and other factors that determine sustainability? How is that measured, and how does the definition of “sustainable” change and shift over time? Since it is rather difficult to change technologies in data centers based on shifts and changes in the industry, how do they remain sustainable over time? Even with sustainability, how do all these moving parts affect (positively or negatively) the planet as a whole? I’m looking forward to more presentations to help explore these topics further.


Note from the chapter’s vice president of sustainability: Join us for our next event on 24 February 2021 at 5:15 p.m. (PST)” “If You Build It, They Will Come. But Will They Stay?” with San Francisco Recreation & Parks Department Community Garden and Urban Agriculture Program Manager Mei Ling Hui.