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Energy Conscious Data Center Design

Aaron Binkley, Director, Sustainability
April 22, 2016

As we become more dependent on storing and accessing personal data, cloud computing and data centers are more critical to daily life. Along with managing an abundance of big data, many data center companies are faced with the additional challenge of protecting the earth.

According to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), in 2014 there were about 3 million data centers in the U.S., which is approximately one data center for every 100 people, across the nation, requiring a lot of power and electricity to operate.

Though increasingly more data dependent, Americans continue evolving into a more energy-conscious culture. This dichotomy places the business of data centers at the intersection of the environment we seek to protect and the digital world we live in today.

In 2014, already 57 percent of Americans preferred conservation as an approach to solving the nation’s energy problems, up from 51 percent in 2013. Our cultural desire to balance those two citizenships has given birth to the concept of the green data center.

In celebration of the 46th Earth Day on April 22, we’re proud to highlight a recently completed project: the sustainable building certification achieved at our Oakland, California data center.

With 49 certifications since 2009, Digital Realty has demonstrated its commitment to leading the industry with sustainable buildings. Our 720 Second St. data center is one of two projects receiving certification in Q1 of 2016 joined by the 3 Loyang Way redevelopment in Singapore, which received Green Mark Platinum certification.

720 Second Street Receives LEED Certification

Historically, data centers have not been recognized for sustainability. But, due to our environmentally conscious mindset, that too is changing, and is driving more sustainable data center design.

Today, hundreds are pursuing the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, a voluntary rating system for energy-efficient buildings from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

When it was time to update those areas of the Oakland data center where customers and Digital Realty employees spend the most time, the company chose to make it a sustainable remodel. The upgrade focused on bringing in more daylight, improving air quality, using water and lighting more efficiently.

With its continued focus on sustainability, Digital Realty embraced the standards and best practices comprising the LEED certification program for the design, operation and construction of high performance green buildings.

According to Digital Realty’s Asa Donohugh, who managed the project, “The remodel addressed indoor air quality in the building’s human-occupied spaces by installing carbon dioxide (CO2) sensors, selecting low-emitting flooring, composite wood products and furniture as well as non-toxic paints, sealants and adhesives to protect breathable air from toxic fumes. Once the remodel was complete, the site initiated a green cleaning program to prevent the use of toxic chemicals by custodial crews.

We updated many of the common hallways from fluorescent tubes to light-emitting diode (LED) lighting, which uses 80-80% less energy than traditional lighting. The lobby interior was updated to include more efficient lighting tied into motion controls, while the exterior of the lobby was opened up to let in more natural light. The break room was expanded to provide customers and staff with more space to relax and all the restrooms were updated with new tiling, water-conserving plumbing fixtures, and more efficient lighting. While we were at it, we upgraded the building to the latest ADA accessibility standards.”

Joining Donohugh on the remodel team were Chief Engineer Dave Lyman, tasked with making sure the project did not impact critical data center operations, and Raul Saavedra who worked to get it funded.

There are a number of benefits to making data center design more sustainable and LEED certified. The implementation of energy efficiency measures can result in operational savings, lower operating costs and increased asset value.

According to a recent Nielsen global survey on corporate social responsibility, more than half (55 percent) said they are willing to pay extra for products and services produced or offered by companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact—an increase from 50 percent in 2012 and 45 percent in 2011.

The Digital Realty team’s efforts produced positive environmental outcomes by focusing on two key areas: Ensuring the construction process tread lightly on the environment, and providing a clean and healthy indoor environment for customers and employees.

On the construction side, the project team concentrated on sourcing materials regionally, incorporating recycled content, and recycling construction waste. To enhance indoor air quality, the team specified products, finishes, and furniture with low volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and installed sensors that monitor indoor CO2 levels to maintain good air quality.

Equally important, changes made to the façade allowed the project team to bring in more daylight into occupied areas, which also improved the look and feel of those spaces.

Some sustainability achievements resulting from the remodel:

  • 78% of construction waste was diverted from the landfill
  • 39% water savings
  • 25% improvement in lighting power efficiency
  • 26% reduction in lighting power density using LED-based low mercury lighting
  • 80% of wood used in the project is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council
  • Greenguard Certified seating and furniture systems

The conference room at 720 Second Street features energy efficient lighting, non-toxic paints and finishes, CO2 sensors to monitor air quality, and plenty of natural light from the adjacent lobby

Good green news from our 2015 archives:

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