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Understanding Data Center Sustainability

For most organizations today, doing business in ecologically responsible ways is a higher priority than ever. As governments enact strict new regulations and awareness grows of issues such as global warming and pollution, more and more businesses are taking aggressive action to lighten their environmental impact. Along the way, they’re discovering that operating sustainably can be good not just for the planet but for the bottom line as well.

However, for a variety of practical and financial reasons, many companies find achieving sustainability in their data centers challenging. Would you be more inclined to take on the challenge if you could create efficiencies and save money? Consider that replacing just one 550 kW uninterruptible power supply (UPS) from a redundant UPS configuration with a higher-efficiency model could save your business more than $40,000 in power and cooling bills each year, while eliminating 190 tons of CO2 emissions and netting you substantial utility company rebates.

The following explores the benefits of operating a sustainable data center and will provide a basis for a series of columns discussing concrete strategies that IT and facilities managers can use to save water, energy and natural resources, reduce environmental harm and improve indoor air quality.

What is sustainability in the data center?

Sustainable systems preserve and promote the long-term well-being of our planet’s environment, inhabitants and natural resources by avoiding waste and limiting production of greenhouse gases and toxic pollutants.

A sustainable data center is one that uses materials and processes aimed at minimizing the facility’s impact on both human and environmental health. This applies to all aspects of data center construction and operation, from design and site selection to hardware procurement and administration to power and cooling practices.

Achieving true data center sustainability means using infrastructure products that are sustainable across their entire life cycle. That is, from acquisition of raw materials to manufacturing, use and disposal, every component of every piece of hardware in the data center should do as little damage as possible to human health and the environment.

Business benefits of a sustainable data center

Though sustainability is a worthwhile goal in its own right, building a sustainable data center also delivers tangible and significant business benefits, including these:

Financial savings: An environmentally-responsible enterprise is an efficient one as well. Sustainably-run data centers consume less energy, water and space, reducing both capital and operational expenses. In addition, many local utilities and national governments offer tax breaks and other financial incentives to organizations that use power and other resources efficiently.

Enhanced public reputation: To a steadily increasing degree, consumers and organizations expect the companies they buy from to demonstrate environmental stewardship in their business practices. Data centers in particular have come under heightened public scrutiny in recent years due to the amount of power and water they use. Organizations that make visible efforts to reduce their consumption of natural resources are likely to win praise from customers and investors. Companies that don’t can expect to receive criticism that may damage their image and profitability.

Implementing Sustainable Data Center Practices

IT and facilities managers who wish to bring sustainability to the data center have access to a wide range of effective and affordable strategies. The Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification process offers a framework for organizing those strategies. LEED is a standard for environmentally sustainable construction created by the U.S. Green Building Council, a non-profit organization that promotes energy-efficient architecture.  LEED framework was originally developed for commercial buildings, and with each release tries to take into account the difference between standard commercial buildings and data centers. To earn LEED certification, buildings must exhibit environmental responsibility in seven areas:

  • Sustainable sites
  • Water efficiency
  • Energy and atmosphere
  • Materials and resources
  • Indoor environmental quality
  • Innovation and design
  • Regional Credits

Some sustainability strategies are still experimental, require heavy upfront investments or come with significant potential drawbacks. Most, however, are proven, cost-effective and relatively simple. By following implementation steps outlined in the next series of articles, investigating and adopting such practices today will enable your facility to save money, enhance reputation and help keep the planet we all share clean and healthy for future generations.

John Collins is segment manager of data centers for Eaton Corporation.

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One thought on “Understanding Data Center Sustainability

  1. Hey John,
    You should really interlink this series that you did on making a data center environmentally friendly. It would be nice to be able to read all the articles in order.

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