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Get eco-friendly with LEED data center certification

The U.S. Green Building Council helps companies make existing and new data centers eco-friendly. HVAC, lighting and monitoring technology help increase infrastructure efficiency.

When buildings are designed with the environment in mind, they're built or modified to save energy, water and lifecycle costs. They generate less waste and are healthier for the people using them. Organizations can go one step further and have a government audit that shows just how environmentally friendly their buildings -- and data centers -- are.

Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program provides a framework for all buildings, community and home projects to create healthy, highly efficient and cost-saving green buildings. With a LEED data center certification, organizations can use guidelines to build more eco-conscious data centers and consider how the construction affects the community and ecosystem at large.

What it means to be LEED certified

LEED certification reduces operating costs and increases tenant revenue for building owners and data center managers; it also attracts tenants that want to participate in a greener economy.

Buildings are certified at various levels, including Platinum, Gold, Silver and Certified. These levels denote how many points a building project received during the certification process.

LEED covers all building types, including data centers. The program is designed to "inspire teams to seek innovative solutions that support public health and our environment, while saving building owners money," the USGBC said.

Organizations can apply LEED data center certification in two ways: to optimize the operations and facilities of an existing data center in a mixed-use building and to build new data center.

The LEED for Building Operations and Maintenance (LEED O+M) is a way for an existing data center housed in a mixed-use building to reduce its carbon footprint. To obtain a LEED data center certification, the organization applies a combination of credits to the building and its surroundings, as well as the data center facility. Credits are the different LEED categories that help organizations get project points. For example, optimizing energy performance at a site as part of the energy and atmosphere credit gets a building 18 certification level points.

For these preexisting data centers, organizations should work with the facility manager to ensure that any applicable credits are properly executed.

LEED O+M v4.1 certification requirements

A data center in a mixed-use building must meet a set of minimum requirements that affect both the data center facility, as well as the surrounding building. It must be a minimum of 1,000 square feet in size, installed in a building that's fully operational and occupied for a minimum of one year.

The building's owner or management is responsible for transportation options available to the building, outdoor water use and reduction, as well as regional renewable energy and carbon offsets.

Organizations must have admins or facility managers who are responsible for specific data center requirements, such as:

  • energy efficiency management practices;
  • fundamental refrigerant management protocols that affect and improve data center HVAC systems and indoor air quality;
  • indoor lighting controls that meet stated lighting load and illumination requirements; and
  • innovative measures to address new environmental performance levels.

To achieve LEED O+M v4.1 certification, an organization should budget for upgrade projects that affect multiple data center systems; for example, implementing a new HVAC system that meets the minimum indoor air quality requirement or updating hardware that optimizes the data center's energy use to meet the grid harmonization requirement.

New data center construction

LEED certification for Building Design and Construction (LEED BD+C) applies to any new construction, including new data centers, that occupy at least 60% of a building. The latest version of this certification includes new energy metrics that consider greenhouse gas emissions, adjustments to the compliance methodology for implementing low chemical-emitting materials and restructured Daylight and Acoustic Performance credits that let organizations have more flexibility in obtaining certification points.

LEED BD+C: Data Center v4.1 certification requirements

For a newly built data center, a basic requirement is that it is constructed and operated in a permanent location on existing land; temporary or portable data centers can't gain LEED certification. The data center also must occupy a minimum of 60% of the permanent location, with a minimum of 1,000 square feet of gross floor area dedicated to the data center.

The construction plan must specify reasonable LEED boundaries to ensure the data center building is accurately evaluated. These boundaries should encompass all contiguous land associated with the project and operations, such as parking and sidewalks, septic and stormwater treatment equipment and landscape.

To achieve LEED BD+C Data Center v4.1 certification, a data center construction project must include expenses for design items that meet specific credit requirements. Smaller investments in design tweaks or enhanced monitoring systems can help meet high-value requirements. For example, switching to a highly heat-reflective roof will more efficiently dissipate the data center-generated heat and let the organization obtain more Heat Island Reduction credits. Investing in an enhanced metering system could identify additional energy-saving opportunities and build up building-level energy metering credits.

Other LEED data center certification components require more significant design and facility investments, since they affect the whole building. To meet the Neighborhood Development location requirement, organizations might need to move the data center's location to a different neighborhood to reduce its effect on the surrounding environment, reduce the distance employees must travel and encourage public transit usage.

To meet the Building life-cycle impact reduction requirement, organizations must make significant design and construction investments related to building with green materials and encouraging adaptive material reuse in every phase of construction and use.

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