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  • How data can help us use the world's resources more efficiently

    By Kelly Hall, 3M Storyteller

    Waves crashing into a beach

    • Laura Nereng believes that, in the future, society can continue to function in a better place.

      Her passion for this idea is rooted in a love for science that stretches as far back as she can remember.

    • Laura Nereng exploring nature as a child

      Sustainability is about innovating to ensure we are able to meet both the needs of the global community today and the needs of generations to come.

      “My interest in energy, water and scientific progress has always been a part of my family and my life,” says Laura. She vividly remembers being fascinated by the shapes and conditions of waves during family vacations to Lake Michigan each summer. “I would play around in the creek that flowed into the lake and experiment with different shaped rocks and obstacles to the water,” she says. Her goal? To see how these objects would affect the shapes of the waves. “I loved how the lake would look and feel different depending on the wind and clouds,” she says. “It was different every day.”

      Laura’s interest in science and wondering how things work quickly grew into a passion for a specific area of expertise: chemical engineering. “Chemical engineering explains why things happen the way they do,” says Laura, now the Sustainability Leader for the Electronics and Energy Business Group at 3M. She explains that if you can understand the fundamentals of chemical engineering, you can then apply science to think of solutions to real world issues – like using data to solve for the energy problem that our exponential growth of data is creating in a sustainable way.

    • Graphic showing how business, social and environmental benefits relate to sustainability

      Sustainability: business, social and environmental benefits

      “Sustainability is how we live within our means versus living on the credit card and having future generations pay the bill,” says Laura.

      She explains that we can think of Sustainability as improving our businesses, our planet and every life. “That’s what we at 3M call our Every Life Ambition,” she says.

      For a Sustainability impact to really happen, it must have an economic benefit to business, a social benefit to people, as well as a benefit to the environment, explains Laura. “If an opportunity encompasses these three things, and they work, we now have an effort that improves the Sustainability of the future.”

      Laura says we’re using resources at a rate that would require two earths by 2030 and three earths by 2050. “Of course, we don’t have three earths, so this is a challenge,” says Laura. Global population growth (PDF, 2.66 MB) and an increasing rate of consumption present increasing challenges, she adds. What are the solutions? “We need to balance our consumption with our renewal of resources,” says Laura.

      Rather than simply cutting lifestyle improvements, Laura hopes that, through innovation, we can become more efficient in using the current resources we have.

    “Data is very empowering … I’m optimistic about entering this ‘Great Age of Optimization.’” – Laura Nereng, 3M

    • Inside a data center

      Data influencing Sustainability

      Data can help meet this challenge, too. “We’re entering this ‘Great Age of Optimization’ where we now have all this data to help us analyze and predict things,” says Laura. “Optimizing data can enable resource productivity. We can use resources much more wisely across more areas, recycle more and track things. All of this can help us advance toward to a more sustainable future.”

      But, the optimization of data could all go to waste if the data centers that house our data aren’t designed efficiently – especially when it comes to the energy efficiency of data centers. This is an area of expertise for Roger Tipley, president and chairman of the board at The Green Grid Association, knows all too well. “For the last 10 years, The Green Grid has been involved with energy efficiency and data centers,” he says. “Moving forward, we’ll expand that into, ‘How do we enable sustainable IT in an uncertain world?’”

      Laura says the answer to this question is rooted in eliminating system inefficiencies.

      “If you can remove an inefficiency to make things more efficient, you’ve now used less time and less resources. Sustainability is inherently served,” she says.

      Once again, we can use data to do that. “Data will have two main roles: The first is relentlessly identifying the inefficiencies in any system. The second is providing real time feedback to systems – with more data,” says Laura. “Data itself is very empowering and worth solving the technical challenges to enable it, because the benefit is broad and deep. This is why I’m optimistic about entering this ‘Great Age of Optimization.’”

    Learn more

    3M scientists and engineers are working with some of the leading tech firms and innovators to develop solutions to help make data centers more efficient. 3M’s new documentary, ‘Data Driven,’ explores the importance of the data center industry and also the challenges it faces as it scales into the future.