Sustainability has become a ubiquitous adjective associated with data centers. The sustainable modifier is good as it goes, but the multifaceted nature of the concept is rarely discussed. While using green energy to reduce CO2 emissions and developing cooling alternatives to reduce or eliminate water usage are definitely part of the sustainability equation, they aren’t the only components in a comprehensive green strategy. How facilities are designed and built have substantial impact on how data centers integrate with the environment. In a sense, they provide the foundation for delivering comprehensive sustainable facilities.

So, how can data capacity be created in a responsible way? At Compass Datacenters, we’ve adopted a “back to the basics” strategy centered on reduce, reuse, and recycle to deliver facilities with a sustainable infrastructure.

  • Reuse — Data centers in reasonable proximity to business districts are in demand, but land is not so easy to come by. Like so many trends in our lives, what’s old has become new again. To that end, we’ve resurrected the concept of adaptive reuse and are regularly reviewing structures, such as abandoned malls, schools, and power plants, for repurposing. Reuse keeps huge volumes of building materials out of landfills and eliminates the need to expend energy manufacturing virgin materials.
  • Reduce — Using an industrialized approach for scheduling means a decrease in crews, shifts, trucks, machine use, etc. A carefully crafted and proven delivery sequence allows for precise planning and organized subcomponents to be installed, resulting in schedule certainty and minimal construction waste. Since the team at Compass Datacenters put this practice into place, it has allowed us to meet our initial and primary goal for efficiency and has delivered immeasurable safety benefits.
  • Recycling — Compass requires its contractors to use separate dumpsters for recycling and waste, striving for no more than 10% of waste to landfills. This applies to both green and brownfield sites. We also process fill materials on-site, using demo debris and rock from over-excavation.

There’s a huge opportunity for mission critical structures to be designed for disassembly. Planning for disassembly and reuse to reduce waste and keep the building and the component parts in service minimizes energy consumption and waste down the line. This practice stands to significantly minimize, if not eliminate, the need for building demolition, allowing materials to be easily and cost-effectively taken apart and directed to a future application. The following are key to making this strategy practical.

  • Using simple, open-span structural systems and standard-size, modular building components and assemblies.
  • Using high-quality materials that are worth recovering for reuse and/or recycling.
  • Minimizing the use of different types of materials and making connections visible and accessible.
  • Using mechanical fasteners, such as bolts, screws, and nails instead of sealants and adhesives.

As an industry, we jumped on the operations aspects of sustainability. We are having a real, felt impact on renewable power generation and making strides in water conservation.  By taking the time to think about design and construction from both an operations and after-usage perspective, we can develop a more comprehensive approach to developing sustainable mission critical facilities.