Implementing Sustainable Data Center Practices

Indoor Environmental Air Quality & Innovation in Designs

The US Green Building Council (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), certification is an internationally recognized mark of excellence and commitment to sustainability. The framework promotes a whole-building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in seven areas:

  • Sustainable Sites
  • Water Efficiency
  • Energy and Atmosphere
  • Materials and Resources
  • Indoor environmental Quality
  • Innovation in Design
  • Regional Credits

My previous Environmental Leader posts provide background on a range of sustainability topics affecting the data center, including a description of the first four areas of LEED certification and viable solutions for achieving credits in each. The following will explore the last USGBC designated area, Indoor Environmental Air Quality, and provide solutions for achieving LEED credits for sustainability efforts that go beyond USGBC’s specifications. Stay tuned for my last installment in this series, in which I will discuss achieving regional credits for the development of sustainability initiatives.

Indoor Environmental Air Quality

Being serious about sustainability means focusing attention not only on what happens outside data centers, but on what happens inside them, too. Companies can raise productivity, reduce sick days and improve employee retention rates by making their data centers healthy, inviting places to work, with the help of practices such as these:

1. Maintaining cleanliness

Organizations can protect both computer hardware and data center technicians from dust and other airborne particulates by keeping fans, filters and vents clean. Periodically hiring a cleaning service with experience working in data centers is another good way to keep indoor air free of dust and dirt.

2. Monitoring outdoor air delivery

Servers need air to be cool; technicians need it to be breathable. The U.S. Green Building Council recommends equipping all buildings with ventilation monitoring systems and configuring those systems to generate an alarm when airflow values or carbon dioxide levels vary by 10 percent or more from optimal values.

3. Using low-emitting building materials

When constructing or retrofitting a data center, use adhesives, sealants, paints, coatings and other building materials that are as free as possible of toxic, odorous or irritating ingredients.

Innovation in Design

The Innovation in Design category provides bonus points for projects that utilize innovative technologies and strategies to improve a building’s performance beyond the initial requirements set by the LEED Green Building Rating System. The credit also accounts for additional green building considerations that are not specifically stated in the LEED standards and rewards projects for including a LEED Accredited Professional on the team.

Eaton provides the following solutions for achieving Innovation in Design credits:

1. Wireless Lighting Control

Integrating wireless lighting control reduces control wiring installation and enhances controllability of general and task lighting. Wireless lighting control also offers capabilities such as providing control of window treatments, which can further enhance daylight harvesting potential for additional energy savings.

Additionally, strategic dimming and turning off of fluorescent lamps can extend their life by as much as 50 percent, which reduces the frequency of lamp and ballast replacement and the raw materials needed for lighting.

 2. Advanced Battery Management

If your facility depends on backup battery power provided by uninterruptible power systems, look for options with advanced battery management options. This technology can extend battery life and optimize battery recharge time, extending the battery life by up to 100 percent and minimizing energy usage. Optional temperature compensated charging technology can extend batter life every further by monitoring battery temperature.

3. Raising power distribution voltage to the IT rack

Providing 400 volt (V) AC power distribution to the IT rack is another option for achieving Innovation in Design credits. The rack power distribution units will then supply 240V single phase power. All IT equipment is capable of running 230V AC because this voltage is used in many other parts of the world.  Using 400V AC distribution to the IT rack enables a few benefits such as elimination of transformers and smaller conduit sizing – both save capital expense and help with efficiency gains.

A word of caution:  United States codes and standards (NEMA/ANSI) are different from rest of world (IEC).   As a result, an electrical consultant should be engaged to discuss options for mitigating potentially higher arc fault energy levels in the electrical distribution system as a result of 400V AC distribution to the IT rack.

4. Energy Audits

An energy audit from a LEED Accredited Professional can play a critical role in reducing operating cost and energy consumption, and preparing for a cap and trade. Additionally, energy audits are required on an ongoing basis to drive energy management and continuous improvement.

Eaton employs LEED Accredited Professional in every one of its districts who can support and encourage the design requirements by LEED to streamline the application and certification process, and to ensure integration of sustainable methods is considered in every stage of the design and construction process.

Most organizations today want to do business sustainably, but find achieving that goal in their data centers difficult. Fortunately, by adhering to the guidelines set forth for LEED certification, companies can cost-effectively achieve strategies for enhancing environmental responsibility in IT operations.

John Collins is segment manager of data centers for Eaton Corporation. To learn more about Eaton’s sustainable electrical solutions, please visit

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