Environmental issues have been gaining increasing importance in the political debate and it seems clear that both public and private entities shall do more to address some of today’s most urgent challenges, such as climate change. As regards the role public entities may assume in this scenario, it has been accepted, at least since the beginning of this century, that public procurement may also be used to pursue environmental (along with purely economic) goals and that, when public entities choose to “buy green”, they lead the whole market to a more sustainable development.

In view of this, the EU Commission has been developing Green Public Procurement criteria to facilitate the inclusion of green requirements in public tender documents. Procuring authorities may choose to include all or only certain requirements in their tender documents, depending on their ambitions. The use of the criteria is voluntary.

New EU GPP criteria have been recently published regarding data centres, server rooms and cloud services.

Criteria are split into selection criteria, technical specifications, award criteria and contract performance clauses. Two types of criteria are foreseen: (i) core criteria, designed to allow for easy application of GPP, and (ii) comprehensive criteria, considering more aspects or higher levels of environmental performance.

In procuring a new data centre product or service, distinct routes may be chosen with different advantages and disadvantages. Such choice will surely have a significant influence on improvement of the environmental performance.
In the applicable staff working document, the EU Commission indicates that, when public organisations procure data centre products and/or services, such products and services typically fall within one of the following routes:

  • Building / equipping a data centre: (i) building a new data centre, (ii) equipping a server room / data centre;
  • Expanding and consolidating the infrastructure or a new ICT project: (i) expansion and/or consolidation of existing server rooms and/or data centres into new or existing data centres, (ii) IT virtualisation services, (iii) consolidation of the existing server rooms in a new enterprise data centre;
  • Outsourcing to a hosted and/or cloud application environment, which means procuring a service and not a physical product, such as cloud services, which include (i) procurement of hosting services, (ii) procurement of cloud services;
  • Operating and/or maintaining the facility, such as: (i) enterprise data centre / server rooms operation and maintenance services, (ii) arrangements to locate and/or operate ICT equipment from within a colocation data centre (colocation services).

In the working document, the EU Commission highlights that the Energy Efficiency Directive (2012/27/EU) sets out specific obligations for public authorities to procure certain energy efficient equipment.

  • This includes the obligation to purchase only those products that (where a product is covered by an implementing measure under Directive 2009/125/EC) comply with energy efficiency benchmarks specified therein;
  • This obligation is limited to central government and for purchases above the thresholds set out in the procurement directives;
  • The requirements must be consistent with cost-effectiveness, economic feasibility, wider sustainability, technical suitability and sufficient competition.

The impact of energy consumption of these products and services and the EU position on circular economy marked unquestionably the approach the EU Commission has taken in the setting up of the GPP criteria.

The main environmental impacts of data centres and server rooms from the lifecycle perspective mainly include:

  • The electricity consumption by the IT systems (primarily due to operation of the servers);
  • The electricity consumption of the mechanical and electrical (M&E) system required mainly to control the internal environmental conditions of the data centre;
  • Generation of potential hazards from improper disposal of waste electronic equipment and the associated loss of valuable material resources, including critical raw materials;
  • Consumption of energy and materials to manufacture the ICT equipment used;
  • The use of high global warming potential (GWP) gases in cooling systems;
  • Direct and indirect greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions linked to the data centres operations, including electricity consumption, refrigerants, the manufacturing of ICT systems and unexploited potential for waste heat reuse.

In addressing and mitigating such impacts, the GPP criteria established by the EU Commission reflect the EU Commission approach under the Green Deal as evidenced below:

  • Purchase energy efficient servers;
  • Purchase services able to maximise the server's utilisation rate;
  • Purchase products implementing a restricted substances control of hazardous constituents;
  • Purchase products designed in a way that the key components can be repaired and/or upgraded;
  • Require end-of-life management practices to maximise the recovery of resources;
  • Procure design and construction services that can achieve high energy-efficiency performance, including maximum efficiency of the M&E system;
  • Require energy-efficiency best practices to be implemented for operating the cooling systems, including monitoring and the use of free cooling;
  • Require the highest possible share of renewable energy for the provision of data centre services;
  • Avoid the use of refrigerants with high GWP for the provision of data centre services, unless it is proven that the use of close-to-zero GWP refrigerants would not be possible due to exceptional circumstances or would reduce the energy-efficiency of the system;
  • Prefer products/services that ensure waste heat reuse, e.g. in building or district heating networks.

The impact of this working document is yet to be seen due to its voluntary use. Also, when referring to data centres, and specifically when referring to cloud products and services, there are many requisites to comply with such as cybersecurity requisites that shall be aligned with the GPP criteria so that security and sustainability may evolve in the same direction, so that public entities, but also private entities, do not have to choose one rather than the other.

GPP makes sense for a more sustainable world, and we believe it makes sense as well from an economic approach. It is useful not only to public entities but also to private entities. Sustainable investments are unavoidable for companies that want to remain in business for a long term.

To benefit from this opportunity, it is however crucial to successfully implement these GPP criteria. Designing and managing efficiently the procurement process is key.