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Communicating Sustainability Part II: Standardizing Green Guidelines for I
November 01, 2010

By Staff
Appeared in Environmental Design + Construction

The building industry has taken giant leaps toward sustainability in most areas, but it has neglected to recognize the role IT and communications systems play in a building's energy expenditure. Until every building component is considered for its efficiency, we can't consciously say we're giving a green building to society. From owners and technology designers to rating systems like LEED, it's high time for IT and communications systems to go green.

We live in an era of ever-evolving communications systems. With high usage requirements and technological innovation doubling every two years, efficient computers, servers and voice and data systems with higher bandwidths are in constant demand. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration , U.S. buildings spend as much as 66 billon kilowatt-hours annually on communications equipment like computers, servers, copiers, fax machines, cash registers and more.

The short life cycle and significant demand makes IT and communications systems ripe for standardization. From head-end equipment like switches and servers to end-user equipment including computers, phones and fax machines, regulating the energy use and carbon footprint of these building components is just as crucial as that of their fellow mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) systems.

Tomorrow's IT and communications designs must not only meet the demands of higher performance but they must do so a way that is cost-effective and energy efficient as well. Only when we begin to design to this standard will we be able to effectively decrease the energy consumption caused by communications equipment and deliver true green buildings to society.

Green Standards and Guidelines

IT and communications equipment and their systems can meet a variety of already-established sustainable criteria. Hypothetically speaking, if these systems were to meet LEED rating system criteria, they would follow the same pattern as a building's MEP systems with similar categories, including Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources Selection, Indoor Environmental Quality and Innovation and Design Process. Here's how.

When these strategies are included in the design stage, they can figure into whole building energy simulation and analysis, adding to the building's projected energy savings from day one

Materials and Resources Selection (MR)

In order to conserve resources and reduce the environmental impact of new buildings as they relate to material manufacturing and transportation, IT and communications systems design should:

Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ)

In order to improve the indoor air quality (IAQ) and promote occupancy comfort in each building space, IT and communications design should utilize cables that are manufactured to be RoHS (Restriction on the use of Hazardous Substances) compliant and low VOC (volatile organic compounds). Cables without this certification may contain materials that are hazardous to humans in case of a fire. (Although LEED does not specifically address cables and cable coatings per se, their VOC content can impact indoor air quality, and therefore, this principal could fall under the LEED IEQ, Credit 4: Low Emitting Materials credit.)

Innovation and Design Process (ID)

Innovative sustainable IT and communications systems design will employ server virtualization, allowing multiple applications to run on a single server. Typically, an enterprise running 10 applications will have 10 different supporting servers, plus additional servers for redundancy. Similar to the switch example earlier, each application server is hypothetically running at only 20 percent of its capacity. With server virtualization, multiple applications can be run through a single server, increasing its capacity. Fewer servers will ultimately demand less power, less cooling and require less space. The challenges of server virtualization include configuration and layering the applications on one server efficiently and with appropriate security. (LEED ID Credit 1: Innovation in Design)

Implementing these and more cost-effective, energy-efficient, low-latency solutions for IT and communications systems will push the envelope of tomorrow's green building design without compromising the need for higher bandwidth and high performance.