As the Senior Director of Sustainability for Digital Realty, Aaron Binkley participates in sustainability matters for industry groups such as NAREIT and the US Green Building Council. His focus areas have been in energy conservation, renewable energy, sustainable construction and corporate responsibility reporting. Additionally, Binkley is a registered architect, with an MS from MIT in Real Estate Development, a LEED™ Accredited Professional and has written widely about sustainability in real estate. We sat down with Binkley, an expert on sustainability topics, to cover his thoughts on clean-energy initiates in the data center industry, implementing programs based on environmental, social and governance (ESG) data and what it takes to attract investors.
Digital Realty has set many goals with regard to clean energy and greener initiatives overall. As a company operating worldwide, how do you go about creating a Sustainability roadmap to best handle the industry’s challenges on a global level?
When it comes to Digital Realty in general, parts of our sustainability roadmap cover: a) empowering employees and clients to improve resource efficiency in areas such as energy, water, waste and carbon; b) providing data center solutions that deliver industry-leading energy productivity and resource efficiency, plus increase client value and lower cost of ownership; and, c) communicating our performance regularly and transparently with stakeholders.
We think about Sustainability holistically from an environmental, social and governance (ESG) standpoint. We recognize that there are variations both regionally and globally, and that we can’t have a one-size-fits-all solution. We try to set the tone from the top, in terms of global commitments, goals and roadmap. We give the regions and various business units the flexibility they need to customize the solutions and programs in order to execute against those goals. We work with our regional teams very closely and we coordinate with a number of business units and functional areas to ensure their efforts around energy efficiency, water conservation, renewable energy and carbon emissions reduction. And, we’ve been focusing on renewable energy sourcing, which my team leads in partnership with our energy supply chain team.
In conjunction with a UN program, we set a science-based target to reduce our global carbon footprint by 68 percent by 2030 (compared to our 2018 baseline). That’s really driving us on a go-forward basis to have a company-wide, top-to-bottom approach and commitment to reduce our business’ footprint. We work closely and collaboratively with our customers and partners to ensure that both their sustainability goals and ours are achieved. This could entail working directly with a customer on a renewable energy project or solution, it could be working with a customer to improve energy efficiency in a multi-tenant data center or other initiatives that fit into those categories. You will be seeing a long-term focus from us on all of the elements that we need to bring significant change in reductions to our carbon footprint.
Finally, in this journey it is very important how we communicate our progress, especially being transparent about it with our customers and the outside world. We issue a yearly comprehensive ESG report, extensive additional communications around the sustainability initiatives that we have underway that really demonstrates where we are in this journey with our customers and with the industry in a collaborative way.
Can you talk about the importance of digitalizing your ESG data? What implications has it had on your overall Sustainability Program?
One of the things that sometimes arises as a challenge is trying to do everything, green energy programs, volunteering, et. al. To really be successful, companies need to focus and prioritize. By looking at our ESG data, we are able to prioritize focus areas and better shape our sustainability roadmap. I see the need for ESG data to be expanding significantly. The expectations for accurate and transparent data are becoming much more front and center, and that is essential to having an effective and credible program. Accurately measuring ESG data is key to the proper management of it, and we continue to have good visibility on our ESG metrics.