December 16, 2013 | John Berendzen | Data Centers, Sustainability

LEED for Data Centers V4 – Voicing some Concerns

This office is a big fan of LEED.  Whether you go through the entire LEED certification process, or you use the process as a guideline without seeking certification, the philosophy behind the program results in a high(er) performance building.  However, there are some aspects of LEED that I leave me puzzled.

Case in point – the USGBC has finally come out with a “LEED for Data Centers” in their Version 4 Rating System.  This is great news, however I strongly disagree with their approach to the development density and quality transportation credits found in the “Location and Transportation” category (LT.  These credits are similar to the credits found in previous versions of LEED.  Their goal is to encourage development in dense, developed areas with access to multiple mass transit systems, housing nearby and neighborhood shops and services nearby.  There are 10 credits possible with these two points, meaning that the USGBC is weighting them to make them more desirable to developers who want to achieve the higher levels of LEED (Gold/Platinum).

In addition to these two credits, there’s a new credit called “LEED for Neighborhood Development Location” that has a potential for 16 points.  They list the intent as

“To avoid development on inappropriate sites. To reduce vehicles miles traveled (vehicles kilometers traveled). To enhance livability and improve human health by encouraging daily physical activity.”

If you dig into this one you realize they are encouraging the development of Data Centers in areas that earned the “LEED for Neighborhood Development” rating.  These developments would be similar to the areas noted above: densely populated, mixed use, access to mass transit.

The problem I have with this is a Data Center isn’t always the best neighbor for these areas.  Consider this:

They have very low human populations relative to building size.

They require security requirements that make them “pedestrian unfriendly”.

They typically have few to no window.  Not something that enhances a dense urban neighborhood.

They have utility needs that aren’t often aesthetically pleasing in an urban core.

Many require monthly startup of diesel generators: not something that fits in well with an urban population due to smoke and noise.

You can make the argument that our urban cores are filled with empty buildings that have lost their appeal to the office population, and use as a data center is one way to repurpose these buildings.  While it’s true that many downtown office or warehouse buildings have been converted to Data Center use, it’s also true that often retrofitting these buildings as data centers doesn’t bring large numbers of workers to the area relative to other prospective uses for the buildings, and they are often difficult to retrofit.

Sometimes it seems like if there’s an existing building that no one can use, no one wants – some person will suggest it’s use as a data center.  Why not – the equipment inside won’t complain, right?  It reminds me of a lecture I went to some years back given by a very well published architect.  Every time she encountered some odd angled space left over inside the building due to the twists and turns of the exterior skin, she’d say “this can be artists or student housing”.  As if these two groups wouldn’t complain (toss those artists in there, they’ll take anything).

If LEED really understood the Data Center world, they would have provided more points in the energy category and deleted these points.  LEED certification isn’t about meeting the code’s minimum requirements – it’s about going beyond to achieve the highest and best use for your project.  Data Centers in urban areas, while certainly possible, aren’t the highest and best use.

Back to News