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Interact Environmental Reporting: More than just carbon

Rich Kenny | Aug. 3, 2023

Interact Environmental Reporting: More than just carbon

There are nine planetary boundaries which maintain the balance of our ecosystem, and analysis suggests the global population is exceeding six of these.


Climate is one of the six. It relates to the technology sector through its use of electricity and the carbon emissions associated with equipment manufacture. Novel entities (such as plastics) and freshwater change (which ties to energy generation) are two other areas that relate to the machinery that runs the digital sphere. There are planetary boundaries affected by the supply chain, like Landsystem Change, Biodiversity and Nitrogren flows. It is important to measure these separately from carbon so that we have a clear idea of how to get to a net positive change.   

First cut

The Interact team are all developers at heart; we believe in continuous improvement. The new environmental reporting function reflects that. It has the best data that is available and room to change as research is developed. We have based the materials analysis for servers on information from the Joint Research Council that informs the EU Commission. Having the materials allows organisations to gage the wider sustainability impacts.  

The Interact environmental report includes information on the amount of steel, aluminium, copper, iron, plastics, zinc, brass, lithium and rubber in the server estate. It also lists the critical raw materials (CRM) present, which are in trace amounts but worthy of attention for political as well as geological reasons.

Why we care, and how customers can use the information  

A material breakdown of the equipment helps to assess the environmental impact of buying decisions and choices on how to retire assets. It allows better decision making on product life extension, sale for reuse and choice of recycling. More than that, it gives the recyclers an accurate read out on what is in the equipment so that they can increase material recovery over time.

Some indicators that help

The production of steel, aluminium, iron, copper, zinc and brass has significant environmental impacts that cover land use change, deforestation, habitat and therefore biodiversity loss, land and water pollution, acid runoff and greenhouse gas emissions.

Metals can be very efficiently recycled but reading product material content information from manufacturers suggests that recycled materials are rarely used in server production. Highlighting more information on them will hopefully change this over time.  

Plastics are “novel entities” – materials that are alien to the natural ecosystem and cannot be broken down. Micro plastics have been found in breast milk, and the population of remote populations. Approximately 4 million tonnes enters the oceans each year according to ICUN, and only 9% has ever been recycled according to National Geographic.

Plastics recycling is limited by the type of plastic and the number of times it has previously been recycled. Even compounds that recycle well often need a proportion of virgin plastic to maintain quality.  Knowing the proportion of plastics in equipment allows recyclers to focus on the material that is most worthwhile to recover.

Lithium extraction, like copper extraction, is a water intensive process. It also has a high pollution risk for the local animal and plant life. The material is in dwindling supply worldwide yet in high demand from the renewable transport and energy sector.

End of life destruction has a high risk of fires, which are extremely difficult to extinguish. Knowing how much lithium is present allows recyclers to separate the material and process it differently.

Synthetic rubber is a product of the petroleum industry, with associated climate, air and water pollution impacts. It is also a novel entity that cannot be broken down. The natural alternative has impacts on land-use, deforestation, habitat loss and biodiversity.

Rubber cannot be recycled but can be ground down to make other products like non-slip mats, playground surfaces and astroturf.    

Critical Raw Materials (CRM) are present in trace amounts in servers… but they count. Are those identified by governments as either in low geological supply, or politically risky supply because they are found in a low number of places worldwide. Lithium is a CRM. Others found in servers are Dyprosium, Palladium, Platinum, Antimony, Silicon, Gallium, Germanium and Cobalt.

Mainstream recycling processes tend to destroy CRM in servers because it destroys the amalgams and coatings that contain them. Newer processes like bioleaching and pyrolysis are under development and may be widely available in the near future.

What next?

We are looking forward to the findings of the NWE Interreg funded research project Circular Economy for the Data Centre Industry (CEDaCI) in the next few months. This should update the information on materials usage and environmental impact of servers. It also gives indicators on social impact. The team will be looking at ways of integrating the information into our environmental reporting.