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Raising the Mission Critical Bar

According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), U.S. data centers consumed an estimated 91 billion kilowatte-hours of electricity in 2013. This number is projected to reach 140 billion, annually, by 2020. With the ever-increasing national concern for sustainability, it’s no surprise that the standards for environmental accountability are increasing for mission critical facilities as well. 

In November 2013, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) released its latest version of Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design – LEED v4. With this new version, LEED -  a green building rating system widely considered a marketplace standard for commercial buildings – specifically addresses data centers for the first time, along with other market segments including warehouses and distribution centers. 

Director of rating system development at USGBC, Corey Enuck, stated in a 2012 blog post that USGBC was adopting the rating system to data centers because of the uniqueness of these facilities. He wrote, "Data centers have very few occupants, and they are huge energy users: a data center can use as much energy as a small town (really)…By bringing data centers into the suite of LEED rating systems, we’re removing barriers so that even more data facilities can participate in LEED and build sustainably."

However, it should be noted that data centers have been earning LEED certification for a decade. In 2005, Fannie Mae’s data center in Urbana, Maryland was the first mission critical facility to achieve LEED certification. Noted by Gensler, the architect on the project, the data center realized $1.7 million in energy savings in its first five years of operation. In 2005, LEED New Construction (NC) v2.2 was the newly published iteration of the rating system and there were no precedents for data centers achieving LEED status. Since then, numerous data centers have gone on to achieve LEED certification through new iterations including the lastest version, LEED 2009 (also known as LEED v3), some of them even reaching the highest LEED certification of Platinum.

So now that LEED v4 for Data Centers is available, the hot question is: What are the benefits? Since building design teams can still opt to register data centers with the familiar LEED v3 until October 31, 2016, why should they consider LEED v4? 

ESD’s sustainability experts Edna Lorenz and Aliza Skolnik provide their perspectives on this debate in ESD’s white paper, "Raising the Mission Critical Bar: Does LEED v4 have what it takes to power tomorrow’s data centers?" The white paper includes more information about LEED v4 for data centers – including details about the certification process and cost – compares LEED v3 and LEED v4, and includes the infographic, "What version of LEED should I choose?"