By Chris Crosby
From the March 2014 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
Although many organizations boast of having a “green” data center, oftentimes these are assertions based on ambiguous foundations rather than adherence to a documented standard. Building a LEED certified data center is no different than many facility management endeavors in that a major element in achieving the goal involves developing a clear understanding of the requirements and an associated plan for achieving them. And, the latest version of the certification (LEED v4) includes new market sector adaptations for data centers, among other facility types.
The first step in this process is determining to which LEED level the data center will be designed and built. There are four escalating levels of certification (Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum). The requirements to achieve each of the various levels are broken down into specific areas related to the constructed facility (energy use, building materials, etc.) with a prescribed number of points available within each category. Since LEED certification requires that an organization ultimately submit an application with detailed documentation for final approval, many find it helpful to retain the services of a LEED certification consultant to assist them throughout the process.
Once an organization has determined its LEED goal, stakeholders need to study the points requirements (since certifications are based on achieving a specified minimum number of points for meeting requirements out of an overall maximum) to determine how these will impact the design and materials needs. For example, a key metric used across all levels of LEED certification is the use of recycled and local materials, so the prescribed thresholds should be factored into materials planning efforts.
One common misconception about LEED certification is that it focuses only on energy efficiency. While this is an important element, LEED encompasses more holistic goals of efficiency and sustainability. For example, one aspect of the certification is indoor air quality. In a recently built data center pursuing LEED certification, the design called for MERV 13 filtration and humidity controls on the HVAC system along with low VOC materials to deliver 30% more fresh air for building occupants. LEED also addresses items like the use of toxic materials within a site. In the same data center, one way this requirement was addressed was through the use of low mercury lamps—coupled with the requirement that these can only be replaced with the same type of lamps. [To read more about energy saving opportunities, read “Monitoring Data Centers,” here.]
LEED requirements focus heavily on the materials used in the construction of a facility. The desire to reduce the overall waste normally associated with construction is reflected by the premium that LEED places on the use of recycled materials; it assigns escalating point values based on the percentage of reusable material used. Reflecting an understanding of the volume carbon emissions that can be a byproduct of transporting construction materials, LEED also places an emphasis on the use of locally produced components in construction; escalating point values are assessed for the percentage of materials that are used from suppliers located within a 500 mile radius of the project site.
Building a LEED certified data center is the end result of a systematic process that begins with a clear understanding of the various levels of certification and how they align with an organization’s overall requirements. Success is predicated on effectively establishing and managing the project through its defined milestones including the updating and collection of all necessary documentation, to the submission of all required paperwork and should be coordinated by a LEED certified professional. The end result of these efforts is a data center that is designed for efficient operation both at it opening and throughout its operation.
Crosby is CEO of Compass Datacenters, a Dallas, TX-based firm that builds natural disaster resistant, Tier III-certified, LEED Gold, dedicated data centers. Crosby was a co-founder of Digital Realty Trust, a global wholesale data center provider. He has more than 20 years of technology experience and over 10 years of experience in real estate and investment.