Defining Green Data Centers

A "green Data Center" definition, and thoughts on BREEAM and LEED Data Center criteria

As I noted in my last post, the term “green Data Center” means different things to different people. To some it’s all about energy consumption and efficiency. To others, the facility’s carbon footprint is a key factor. Still others believe that you need to consider all aspects of the Data Center, from the hardware it houses to the materials used in the building to how much of the Data Center’s power comes from renewable energy sources, and more. My own definition for a green Data Center echoes those used in the broader building industry to describe green building construction: a facility – in this case a Data Center – that uses resources in a more efficient manner and has less impact upon people and the environment. Does that definition work for you? Do you have one that you like more? Or have you seen others that you like less? … Speaking of what defines green, I have been interested to see that Data Center-specific standards are now being incorporated into two of the most influential environmental building assessment systems – BREEAM and LEED. In case you’re unfamiliar with them, BREEAM stands for Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method and LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. They are arguably the most prominent of about a dozen such assessment systems used in various counties to rate how energy efficient and eco-friendly buildings are. Under the assessment systems, building projects are awarded points for using design elements to accomplish green goals such as energy efficiency, water efficiency or good indoor air quality. The more points a project accumulates, the higher level of certification it earns. The U.S.-based LEED has certified, silver, gold and platinum tiers, for instance, while the U.K.’s BREEAM has pass, good, very good, excellent and outstanding. Although most assessment systems have versions available for a range of building types, from office buildings to schools to health care facilities, they have historically not had Data Center-specific criteria. This made it difficult for a Data Center project to achieve certification, because certain design strategies that earn points under assessment systems don’t make good sense for a hosting environment. The classic example of this is the practice of daylighting – using natural light to supplement a building’s lighting system. It’s a great approach for most buildings, lowering energy consumption and even improving employee productivity, but not for high-security Data Centers. Green considerations that are more relevant to a Data Center, such as how highly utilized its servers are, haven’t traditionally been included in such assessment systems. Fortunately, things are changing. the Building Research Establishment that governs BREEAM has established Data Center-specific criteria and certified its first Data Center project last year and the U.S. Green Building Council that oversees LEED has created a working group to develop Data Center credits. No word on how long before that Data Centers will be introduced into LEED ratings, but it’s a definite step in the right direction. On that note, let me close with a trivia question: Although LEED does not have Data Center-specific criteria today, a number of Data Center projects have obtained certification, typically as part of larger mixed-used facilities. How many Data Center projects are known to be LEED certified to date? (Hint: The U.S. Green Building Council says more than 32 Data Centers have been registered for future LEED rating, but they are not among those certified today.)

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