Well, we made it … 2020 is behind us. It was a year of discovery, to say the least.

The mission critical industry was one of the most impacted by the pandemic, and the result was rapid-fire change. Sure, some of these changes were unforeseen — like the shift to an almost 100% remote workforce — but others were already in the works and simply saw increased or accelerated adoption (think cloud computing, remote monitoring/management, etc.).

But, New Year’s isn’t about the past — it’s about the future. I recently published predictions from various industry experts, covering everything from 5G and edge computing to cybersecurity and workforce development, and one thing’s for certain: The industry is growing.

This means we can expect to see more data center construction, which means more IT equipment to fill the white space, which requires more power and cooling, and all of this requires more production from OEMs.

That all sounds good, right? And, that’s because it is … on one hand. But, on the other hand, it’s a huge problem because we have yet to identify a metric — or a set of metrics — that can be used to measure the sustainability of an entire operation. We view sustainability efforts as separate pieces of a puzzle, despite the fact that they are tightly woven together. We need to shift our focus to embodied carbon and start measuring the footprints of the journey, not just the destination.

It’s evident in everyday conversations. I’m sure you’ve all had a friend or relative who was trying to make more environmentally friendly purchasing decisions. They look for companies that are paperless, use recycled materials, combine products to reduce shipments, and things like that. But, what they don’t think about is how efficient the manufacturing facility is or where it’s located — do hundreds of employees have to travel 30-plus miles to get to work every day, or are they located in a metro area with public transportation and housing nearby? Do they have the most energy-efficient equipment installed, and, if so, do they properly maintain it to ensure it’s performing as designed? When it comes to shipping, do they optimize their routes? How old are their vehicles, and do they maintain them? Do they rely on manual checks for thermostats, lights, and HVAC units, or do they have a building automation system to optimize energy and alert maintenance of any issues? What types of cleaning chemicals do they use, and is there a better option available? What types of water-savings initiatives do they take? Are they capable of on-site power generation? If they use solar power, what are their plans for recycling the windmills when it’s time? And speaking of paperless — these same questions apply to the data center where their IT equipment is housed as well as to any third-party vendors they may use to deploy their e-blasts, manage their website, and run their call centers.

“2021 will start the advent of the next level of environmental sustainability,” said Chris Crosby, founder and CEO at Compass Datacenters and a member of the Mission Critical technical advisory board. “The use of water, embodied carbon in materials, and back-up generation will move to the forefront as the next frontiers of good stewardship with the environment.”

The thing about predictions is that it’s OK if they’re wrong. But, this one’s different. When it comes to embodied carbon, we as an industry need to understand it so that we can practice it ourselves and then teach it to everyone else. Don’t wait to see whether or not this happens. It’s 2021, let’s make sustainability happen.