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Building greener data centres to gain environmental creds and avoid vilification as an enviro-criminal is a step closer with availability of the BREEAM data centre assessment method.

BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) is the UK's foremost provider of environmental building assessments and is an ex-government agency, the Building Research Establishment, with a history going back to 1917 and involvement in fire protection research. Although run by a charity, BRE Global, it is no woolly green organisation.

It has produced an assessment method for data centres after receiving a lot of requests from clients, according to Martin Townsend, its director. Since data centres were blamed for two per cent of global carbon emissions some years ago, data centre builders and operators have been keen to improve their environmental credentials, and the BREEAM assessment method is a way to do this.

Assessments can be carried out on new buildings, major refurbs, fit outs of existing data centre buildings or a combination of these. The assessment involves scoring the building against sets of criteria for things like energy consumption, land use, and waste. The assessor looks at things like use of recycled aggregates, use of construction materials with a low environmental impact, and responsibly sourced low thermal insulation levels specified to optimise energy demand.

Each sector score is weighted and added to produce a simple overall grading of pass, good, very good, excellent or outstanding.

Jim Smith, a senior executive of Digital Realty Trust, one of the world's largest operators of data centres, said: "Sustainability is important to our brand position." It doesn't cost money in the long run: "All the things in the standard have a net present positive value, a payback period."

He is keen on BREEAM, reckoning it can be great for clients interested in sustainability: "All of our UK work and the bulk of our international work will be BREEAM-certified."

One aspect of the assessment method is the weighting. Dr Robert Tozer, a BREEAM assessor, thought that the weightings did not give enough value to the embodied energy in data centre materials, such as metal equipment. The production of these materials is very energy-intensive and that ought to be reflected in the relevant section weighting.

Townsend said that BREEAM constantly reviews its assessment methods and updates them.

Smith thought the BREEAM data centre method was obviously worthwhile. "Clients love this certification [and] the higher up the client organisation the more important it becomes. It means green procurement ... It really doesn't change any of the cost... Just on the marketing and branding position it should be worth it [and] the buildings will probably cost less to run." ®

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