The digital word is growing at a frantic pace. Ninety percent of our information was created in the past decade and that information largely lives on the internet.

As the digital world grows with an exponential influx of data, the business opportunities related to that data also grow. Enterprises vitally depend on computer systems, software and networks, and data centers are tasked with operating these facets of the enterprise business model.

In order to operate these systems and software, data centers consume incredible amounts of energy. In fact, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, data center electricity consumption is projected to increase to roughly 140 billion kilowatt hours annually by 2020. That amounts to the equivalent annual output of 50 power plants, costing American businesses $13 billion annually in electricity bills and emitting nearly 100 million metric tons of carbon pollution per year.

The creation of an energy-smart data center leveraging renewable energy and optimized for energy efficiency makes great sense. I’m not just talking about great sense from a philanthropic perspective. I’m talking about bottom-line business sense.

According to a report prepared by David Gardiner & Associates, 59% of the Fortune 100 and nearly 66% of the Global 100 have set renewable energy commitments, greenhouse gas emissions reduction commitments, or both. From this view, an energy smart data center aligns with many corporate sustainability initiatives.

While data centers are some of the largest (and fastest growing) users of energy, zero-waste, 100% renewable-powered data centers will appear in the future. Furthermore, the companies that partner with these data centers will be giving their businesses a major competitive advantage.

As follows, there are steps to take now and in the long term to set up for business success.

In the future, there will be data centers run completely by renewable energy. Until that happens, companies can reduce their carbon footprint through the identification of workloads that can be easily transferred to off-peak hours — resulting in lower costs and less energy generation.

Today, data center managers should begin tracking numerous sustainability-focused data metrics, including water scarcity, energy mix, and availability of public transit for employees. In the future, data center operations will have fully liquid energy demand — the ability to instantly transfer workloads to any data center around the world to capitalize on the most sustainable environment and maximize efficiency.

To achieve this goal, data centers need to move to a new level of automation to enable intelligent control. A software-centric approach is the best way to gain efficiency by eliminating waste throughout the IT stack. Just as network and storage optimization are software driven, the data center must be driven by software enabled intelligent control. Using software to keep track of data points related to data center, application, storage, and network performance now will lead to valuable trends and insights down the road. Additionally, this data may very well reveal current system inefficiencies, providing a quick return on investment, proficient mid- and long-term road maps, and waste-free environments.

Another important step on the road to greater efficiency is shifting from traditional, construction-based to an assembly based data center leveraging modular data center technology. With a modular approach, data center capacity can be deployed in smaller units and on-demand just as storage compute and networking are delivered. Modular center technology eliminates the wasteful over provisioning of capacity found in traditional environments, reducing an organization’s carbon footprint.

In addition to data center infrastructure, sustainability best practices need to include companies examining the inflow and outflow of materials in the data center. Also, cables, sensors, IT hardware, and heating and cooling units need to undergo frequent inspection and optimization. The daily flow of materials should be managed to eliminate wasteful behavior and aim for zero-waste data centers.

The internet touches more aspects of life than we realize; it’s in the background everywhere while we go through our daily routines. It is our single, species-wide central nervous system: sensing, transmitting, storing, and processing information. Data centers are the brains of this nervous system.

The companies that are able to conserve and decrease their energy consumption with regard to data centers through sustainable principles will be setting themselves up to put distance between themselves and their competition.