As football season gets underway, I’m reminded of a popular saying among NFL coaches, scouts, and players that also applies to another multi-billion dollar industry: data centers.

“The greatest player in the world doesn’t help you if he’s not on the field,” simply means that an athlete’s size, speed, strength, and skill are inconsequential if he’s injured and unavailable to play. For years, this was also true in data center environments, where availability was the metric that mattered most — especially for companies that outsource their data center management to wholesale or retail colocation facilities.

But, a recent study conducted by Data Center Knowledge shows another “ability” — sustainability — is quickly becoming equally important among this growing customer base. According to the survey, 60% of those polled say their organization currently has an official sustainability policy, with an additional 25% planning to develop one in the next 18 months.

And, with so many businesses placing a greater emphasis on being green themselves, it should come as no surprise that they expect their data center operators to do the same. In fact, 70% of survey respondents report that their companies consider sustainability issues when selecting providers.

Data center leasing has always been an extremely competitive marketplace with operators jockeying to attract tenants and it’s only expected to become more contentious in the years to come. As the recently published Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) North America Data Center Outlook points out, the first wave of multi-tenant data centers will be dealing with the expirations of their initial 10-year lease agreements. This means those customers will be free to change providers if a more attractive offer comes along.

Colocation and wholesale data center operators who want to gain a competitive edge can do so by implementing green initiatives and replacing old, outdated equipment with more environmentally-friendly solutions. This is especially true with electrical infrastructure, where the conventional energy storage technology (batteries) is harmful to the environment, whereas alternative technologies like flywheels are eco-friendly. Integrated flywheel UPS systems are more energy efficient, don’t require replacement, are easier to maintain and are comprised of non-toxic, recyclable materials unlike their battery counterparts.

Data center operators are conditioned to monitor their racks, servers and wiring to ensure IT availability, but they should also examine their facility’s hardware for sustainability concerns too. And, like a football team with an aging quarterback, they should not be afraid to insert a younger, more reliable and more efficient player into the lineup to ensure future success.