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Technology, innovation and the roadmap to a greener future 

Verne CTO, Tate Cantrell, takes a look at how we can build a future where technology enriches our lives and preserves the planet for future generations. Join him on a journey towards a more sustainable, equitable, and resilient digital infrastructure ecosystems.


Conversations about the intersection of innovation and environmental responsibility are becoming increasingly common. Businesses are grappling with complex questions: Can we innovate while remaining sustainable? How do we balance the desire for new technology with environmental concerns? And perhaps most importantly, where do we begin? 

These questions aren’t easy to answer, but they’re crucial for shaping the future of our planet and our economies. I was a recent guest on David Howell’s Silicon UK In Focus Podcast where we explored the challenges and opportunities that come with aligning technology with sustainability. 

At the heart of the discussion lies a fundamental shift in mindset. Technology, while incredibly powerful in driving economic growth and efficiency, has also disconnected us from the natural world. As we abstract our work through layers of technology, we often overlook the environmental impact of our actions. Whereas offices used to pass papers between departments to get work done, today we use spreadsheets, databases and the cloud to do the same. What results is that the technology layers abstract the work going on underneath. The concept of “natural capital”—the idea that we must consider the value of the natural world as we apply financial capital to our economy—highlights the need for a more holistic approach to technology and innovation. 

However, achieving sustainability in technology isn’t just about reducing our environmental footprint; it’s also about fostering a cultural shift within organisations. We are seeing a change in perspective and much of it is coming from the next generation entering the workplace today. With the influence of these up and comers, we are now demanding companies take sustainability into account. As a result of these demands we are beginning to see a better awareness of the cost that goes into using energy – both from a financial perspective, but perhaps more importantly the cost of natural capital. There is an opportunity for businesses to rethink their attitudes towards sustainability, viewing it not as a hindrance but as an opportunity for innovation and growth. By integrating sustainability into their core values and operations, companies can drive meaningful change while remaining competitive in the market. 

As consumers demand more sustainable products and services, businesses are increasingly recognising the value of sustainability initiatives. Companies are leveraging technology to drive positive social impact while minimising their environmental footprint. Peptone, a UK-based biotech firm, uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to delve into the nuances of protein behavior. They can explore gene variants, optimising for cost-effectiveness and ease of manufacture, ultimately providing a greater societal benefit. Hosting their workloads at our data center campus in Iceland, Peptone is also ensuring their groundbreaking research is environmentally sustainable, aligning their technological pursuits with a commitment to a greener future. 

However, the rapid growth of AI has led to an increased demand for compute power, placing a strain on energy resources. There is no doubt that we are in the midst of an AI arms race. Jensen Huang of NVIDIA recently stated at GTC24 that he expects, over the next four to five years, there will be $2 trillion worth of AI data centers in the market. Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, gave an eye watering prediction that his AI projects will require between $5 – $7 trillion worth of funding. While that might be an exaggeration now, it is a strong indication of potential impact that our AI decisions are having. Perhaps more importantly, Altman also believes that without a major advancement in the way that we generate power, the progress of AI is going to be stopped. 

One way to address this is the adoption of renewable energy sources. By locating data centers in regions with abundant renewable energy, companies can significantly reduce their carbon footprint. Take for example, Wirth Research. Wirth Research is an advanced computational fluid dynamics (CFD) consultancy. They help businesses improve their sustainability by applying their world-leading knowledge of CFD to solve energy consumption issues, particularly those relating to air or thermal inefficiencies. When Wirth moved its high intensity compute to Verne’s campus in Iceland, it not only saved money and upgraded hardware, but reduced its workplace carbon output to zero. They took their cost savings, reinvested in themselves and built a better tech stack to better serve their customers. It was a win for both Wirth and the environment.  

Ultimately, the importance of technology comes in serving human needs and enhancing the human experience. It’s not just about technological advancements for the sake of progress; it’s about how these advancements positively impact society. True sustainability delves into how energy is sourced and how consumption patterns are managed. It’s about embracing a circular economy approach where resources are used efficiently, and waste is minimised.  

As our reliance on digital infrastructure grows, so does the demand for energy to power data centers. Locating data centers near renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, geothermal, and hydroelectric power is one option. The collaboration between technology and energy sectors will also take on greater importance. Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) play a crucial role in this ecosystem, providing financial support for renewable energy projects while ensuring a stable energy supply for data centers. 

As the demand for data center capacity continues to rise, finding innovative solutions to balance energy consumption becomes increasingly urgent. Ultimately, the goal is to create a sustainable framework where technological advancement and environmental stewardship go hand in hand. By prioritising renewable energy and embracing innovative solutions, we can build a future where technology not only enriches our lives but also preserves the planet for future generations. It’s a journey towards a more sustainable, equitable, and resilient digital ecosystem—one that truly engineers for people.