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Life Cycle Assessment: what it is, and why it is important. 

Life Cycle Assessment: what it is, and why it is important. 

Introduction to life cycle assessment 

The IT sector plays a crucial role in driving technological advancements and digital transformation. To maintain an increasingly digital infrastructure, we need our planet’s resources, production of the right materials and machinery, experts to keep the data centers functional, and people using the internet and its services. Considering the variety of contributors and ways of interpretation, the problems the IT sector is facing are complex. Some key examples are energy consumption, electronic waste, supply chain impact, limited lifespan of devices and the resulting carbon footprint. One can see how there are many different forms of inputs necessary to maintain a digital infrastructure. Imagine the difficulty of having control over these inputs. Or worse, the lack of control.  

The IT sector’s environmental impact comes with risks for the industry. Governments are setting up new rules and regulations to gain more control over the impact the industry is making on its surroundings. The Green Deal for example, through which Europe wants to become the first climate neutral continent, consists of a set of goals and norms necessary to become climate neutral. As a result, companies are forced to restructure, and give more insight into their carbon footprint. Through scientific methods, measurements, and analysis, such as life cycle assessment (LCA), we can create an insight into our challenges and risks. But why should you learn more about performing LCA? And what makes it so relevant? 

What is life cycle assessment? 

We consider life cycle assessment (LCA) a complex yet inevitable analysis to help reveal a company’s environmental impact across multiple indicators. It is an important process that evaluates the effects a product has on the environment, throughout the entire lifespan. Based on the insights surfaced through LCA a company can make decisions on where to reduce and where to compensate for emissions and other environmental impacts. Thus, your impact can help to reduce your company’s negative impact. But where do you begin? 

During the latest Cephalocon, Wout and Wido talked about making a positive impact from both an environmental and financial perspective. They referred to Dell’s LCA of a PowerEdge R740 server. This detailed insight, highlights the complexity of LCA. Especially since most of the information necessary for a well-executed LCA is not at hand for those conducting or compiling the analysis. Luckily, the more companies give insight in certain LCAs, the more you can make use of the available information. This will make LCAs and their value more accessible. For this reason, we want to address the importance of doing this together. Make use of each other’s available information and if possible, add something relevant to it.  

Why is life cycle assessment important? 

As a company operating in the open source infrastructure space, we believe it is important to understand our carbon footprint. Since we do not sell products but deliver services, we had to define what products are relevant to our services in order to establish the scope for a detailed LCA.  

In our case, we figured that the servers we use, and data centers in general, have the biggest impact on the environment. As our first step towards providing positive impact, we have decided to start with LCA on one of the servers we often work with, and later dive into data center energy efficiency. We will use Dell’s LCA of the PowerEdge R740 server as an example on how to approach this LCA. For our next steps, to provide positive impact, we will use existing information about the products and will question ourselves to what extent it is possible to gain full insight into the carbon footprint of the servers.  

That said, this also raises the question: To what extent can an analysis like this be reliable? Will it be possible to trace back the origins of important metals used for the manufacture of a server? Or do we have to accept the fact that not all information is available? Have you had any thoughts about your products in use? 

We look forward to learning about the answers to these questions during the performance of our first LCA. And additionally append relevant information for our peers to use and rely on. If there are any suggestions based on your experience or expertise or you wish to learn more, don’t hesitate to contact us. We aim to be an example, to be transparent, and we want to learn from you as well.  

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