Summer brought a newsfeed full of pictures of friends and family soaking up the sun and having big adventures in the great outdoors. The media reported a record number of people rushing to national parks. Summer adventuring makes me think about the “Leave No Trace” movement, which was established half a decade ago to protect our national parks and other natural environments. A similar mindset drives the mission critical industry. 

I see a lot of parallels to the principals of Leave No Trace and the efforts of mission critical providers who are enabling businesses and a global economy while working hard to minimize impacts to the environment. According to the International Energy Agency, emissions have grown modestly despite rapid growing demand for digital services. That’s thanks to energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy expansion on the part of mission critical companies. 

Over the past few decades, the data center industry has taken significant steps to minimize our carbon footprint. Those efforts should be reported. Current environmental reporting protocols focus heavily on quantifying greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from a whole host of sources, with no accounting for the good work being done to eliminate them from business practices — the very important “why” and “how” of the emissions picture.

A quick primer on Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions 

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol has defined three scopes to categorize the different kinds of emissions created across an organization’s wider value chain, including its suppliers and customers. The scopes match who “owns” those emissions with the level of control applicable to changing those emission levels at each stage. 

  • Scope 1 — Direct greenhouse gas emissions from sources controlled or owned by the company. For Compass, that includes things like combustion emissions from generators and “fugitive” emissions from escaped refrigerants.
  • Scope 2 — Indirect emissions from the generation of purchased energy. This is usually dominated by the consumption of electricity from the grid. 
  • Scope 3 — Indirect emissions generated from within a company’s value chain, both upstream and downstream. In other words, these are the Scope 1 and 2 emissions of our suppliers, customers, and to a certain extent, employees.

Scope 4: the missing component

The problem with the current scope structure is that it focuses heavily on GHG emissions produced, leaving no room for reporting on conservation, sustainability, and protection — in other words, the volume of emissions that never happen. Scope 4 accounts for the good work done to eliminate GHG from a business’ practices. 

Scope 4 is an emerging concept that is designed to measure how an organization strategically and purposefully chooses materials, means and methods of operation, and leverages cutting-edge technologies to avoid emissions. Compass Datacenters has set up what’s called a Resource Advisor Dashboard to provide a single view of environmental stewardship in the following three categories.

  1. Product selection — Products strategically chosen to deliver environmental advantages.
  2. Means and methods — How we approach construction projects or operate facilities.
  3. Technology — Implementing technologies that enable carbon emission reductions.

A Scope 4 view allows organizations to paint a better picture of their full sustainability story. The ongoing journey of GHG reduction provides organizations with new opportunities to implement innovative and creative approaches.