Data centers take the LEED

Highmark Inc.'s new 28,000-square-foot data center in Harrisburg, Pa., isn't just energy-efficient, it was also one of the first to attain the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building certification, issued by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). But getting there involved "a lot of give and take," says Mark Wood, director of infrastructure management. Some recommendations simply don't work for data centers, he says, and many don't have a direct, bottom-line payback.

Does LEED make sense in data centers where performance and availability are paramount? Highmark's management was wary at first. "They thought I was nuts when I said I wanted to do LEED," Woods says. But in the end, he was able to keep the marginal costs of the overall program down while saving energy and water resources.

Average savings of green buildings

Energy use 30%
Carbon production 35%
Water use savings 30% to 50%
Waste cost savings 50% to 90%

Source: The U.S. Green Building Council

For businesses that want the cachet of going green, LEED is the ultimate status symbol. While attaining the certification is a laudable goal, not all of the recommendations make sense for buildings that house data centers, and getting the certification can be a reach -- especially when retrofitting existing data centers.

While most data center managers associate going green with energy efficiency, LEED certifications are much more about overall impact on the environment and social responsibility. For example, having a recycling program is mandatory to attain LEED.

The checklist (download Excel spreadsheet) for LEED certification chalks up points for various ecofriendly building practices, which are grouped into six categories. Of the 69 possible points a building design can earn toward LEED certification, just 17 are energy-related, says Peter Gross, CEO at EYP Mission Critical Facilities Inc., a consulting engineering firm based in New York that designed a LEED-certified data center for Fannie Mae (Federal National Mortgage Association). "It has to do with everything from recycling to using renewable energy sources and reducing the use of indoor lighting to the kind of materials you use for the construction itself," he says.

LEED credits and points

  • Sustainable sites: 8 credits, 14 points
  • Water efficiency: 3 credits, 5 points
  • Energy and atmosphere: 6 credits, 17 points
  • Materials and resources: 7 credits, 13 points
  • Indoor environmental quality: 8 credits, 15 points
  • Innovation: 4 points
  • LEED accredited professional: 1 point

Both Fannie Mae and Highmark attained a silver-level certification, which requires meeting mandatory requirements and selecting enough items on the LEED checklist to earn at least 26 total points. With LEED, says Gross, everything is categorized, and you must meet minimum requirements and earn a minimum number of points in each area, such as water efficiency, indoor environmental quality, and materials and resources.

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