It’s no secret that data centers consume a lot of energy, and thus have a significant environmental impact. Determining the exact extent of that impact, however, is a difficult task.
Enter The Green Grid, which has taken a first stab at a framework that builds on existing industry standards to come up with a way for companies to conduct a complete life cycle assessment (LCA) of a data center and measure its full environmental impact. The framework is intended to help companies describe the specifics of their data centers in a consistent manner, so companies can use whatever methodology they choose to evaluate its environmental impact but do so in a manner that yields results that are comparable to other organizations.
It’s a tall order, as multiple methodologies exist to help companies assess the environmental impact of at least some components of their data centers. In its white paper, “Data Centre Life Cycle Assessment Guidelines,” the Green Grid lays out 10 of them, from organizations including the European Commission, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), International Engineering Consortium (IEC) and others.
But, as the paper notes, none of these organizations have frameworks specifically for data centers. Rather, as the paper says:
“There are a variety of software, database, and secondary data tools available with which to perform an LCA; the practitioner should use that methodology which best suits its needs and chosen boundary conditions.”
The Green Grid, which is an international non-profit consortium focused on enhancing data center efficiency, says an effective LCA must include a data center’s full span of operations and provide an initial assessment of all environmental impacts, with particular focus on those aspects that can have a significant impact on the environment.
Companies need to take a comprehensive approach, encompassing everything from the data center’s supply chain to its end-of-life elements, in order to determine whether reducing an environmental impact in one area may result in an increase in another.
On the other hand, the LCA study has to define the data center boundaries, and the Green Grid white paper provides guidance as to where the draw the line. For example, the paper recommends including IT components such as servers, storage and network equipment, racks and network cables, but to include monitors, desktops, laptops and printers only if you can establish they have significant environmental impact.
In the end, the LCA should help companies make more informed decisions regarding design and operational activies that contribute to and can reduce the environmental impact of a data center. As the paper explains, the LCA brings benefits including the ability to:
• Identify life cycle main impacts
• Estimate the changes in the impacts of a product during its use period
• Compare different technologies and supply chain opportunities
To learn more about how to conduct your own LCA, download the free Green Grid white paper, “Data Centre Life Cycle Assessment Guidelines.”