Introduction to Strategies for Sustainable Data Centers

Join DPR Construction's Global Sustainability Leader, Ryan Poole, in a roundtable discussion around the push for a more sustainable data center industry. With the function of systems spanning from hospital records to social media platforms to banking accounts reliant on massive information transfer, the Cloud is an ubiquitous part of everyday life. This dependency continues to create a challenge for resource-intensive data centers as digital infrastructure continue to grow.

What will it take for companies to design and build more energy-efficient, resilient spaces?

New approaches to critical infrastructure

As the Cloud becomes more tied to the ways we work and live, building more sustainable data centers is front and center. In this sneak peek of DPR’s upcoming roundtable series, industry experts from DPR, Equinix, Brightworks Sustainability and Sheehan Nagle Hartray Architects, delve into what is top of mind in the data center space when transitioning into a more sustainable future. Watch the video here.

The roundtable discussion panelists included (from left to right in the video):

Ryan Poole

Ryan Poole

Global Sustainability Leader at DPR Construction

Greg Metcalf

Greg Metcalf

Senior Director, Global Design at Equinix

Josh Hatch

Joshua Hatch

Principal at Brightworks Sustainability

Denis Blanc

Denis Blanc

Director of Sustainability at Sheehan Nagle Hartray Architects

The roundtable series will be shared in four parts and will include segments covering energy, water, embodied carbon and what's next.



This discussion has been edited for clarity.

What's top of mind in the data center space for energy, water, embodied carbon—for transitioning the built environment into being a more sustainable and resilient resource?

Ryan: How we continuously drive more passive solutions, how we drive down that PUE or EUI depending on what you're looking at it from that perspective, right? Because all of that continually adds stress to the grid.

Josh: I think we're providing a very resilient solution to some functions that might not need it, and if we can kind of better manage that across different buildings or across different parts of buildings that might help reduce the amount of backup that you need. There's a grid component to this too, is my point: that if the grid can become more resilient—and there are places where the grid is more resilient—that data center operators have put in not 100% backup power. And there are situations in certain countries where there's overlapping grids or multiple different providers and there are lower risks and some more progressive operators have said we only need backup power for half of it because the grid hasn't gone down here in 20 years.

Denis: If we take the question of water, in the context of LEED for example, we also have more or less technical initiatives to pursue, such as landscaping: no irrigation, reclaiming water—and yes, each time you reclaim water you want to reuse it—there are stringent regulations, health regulations attached to that, that you have to treat it before reusing it.

Ryan: That's where it's so important, right? To do those up front analyses based on where your location is and relative to climate zone and thinking about the locality of stresses you have from a resource perspective, and using those to your advantage of creating a more efficient space.

Greg, the thing that's coming to mind for me, is what are our owners looking at with this—how is it important to you?

Greg: It starts with benchmarking and conducting whole building life-cycle analysis on what we're doing today to give us better indication of what we should do in the future. Considering components of a building, and a choice of A versus B—steel versus concrete—they're the kinds of decisions that we're actively looking at in new construction with regarding embodied carbon. With good data and assistance of partners doing those studies, we can make better choices and overall coming towards a whole building LCA number that we can believe in.

Josh: We started saying, no, we also need a more full assessment of the impact of materials—the EPD, the HPD, disclosures of environmental and health impacts of the materials that we're using all the way through their lifecycle.

Ryan: And it takes all of us working together and thinking through the entire lifecycle of the project and how we actually move manufacturers forward, how we move the design teams forward, how we move contractors forward, and ultimately how we influence and provide support for our owners to continue to develop more sustainable data spaces. And, ultimately, that is for us to create a healthier built environment for people and the planet.

The roundtable series will begin with a discussion on sustainable data centers and energy.

Sustainable Data Centers

Data centers have become a cornerstone of modern life. At the same time, these facilities have traditionally had significant environmental footprints. The question is: how do we support the growth of digital infrastructure while also better managing its energy, water and carbon footprint?