The Green Grid has published a report - Data Centre Life Cycle Assessment Guidelines – that provides a framework and rules that can be used by organisations to describe the specifics of their data centres in a consistent manner. The report deconstructs the lifecycle assessment (LCA) process and clarifies the relevant stages of a data centre’s lifespan.
As the demand grows from central governments and industry regulators to reduce carbon footprints, environmental impact assessments are becoming increasingly commonplace. The report is in response to the growth of various methodologies and tools for assessing environmental impacts that can be applied in a limited way to a data centre.
The Green Grid maintains that the current state of LCA methodologies, the lack of applicable primary and secondary data for assessing data centre components and systems, and the complexity of the data centre makes it difficult to carry out a data centre LCA. The result is that many organisations struggle to have a clear idea of exactly what their assessments should entail. To address the problem the Green Grid is offering a means by which different methodologies can be used to evaluate a data centre’s environmental impacts in the same way.
The framework is intended to be used by data centre owners and operators as a basis to harmonise environmental impact studies. The report introduces the framework, highlights supporting industry standards and discusses how to identify and describe the key elements of a data centre so that a complete assessment can be carried out.
“As demand for environmental impact data has grown, industry organisations and regulatory bodies have developed a range of assessment methods,” says Christophe Garnier, who edited the report. “Each of these might focus on different specific environmental factors, life cycle stages, or products. It is little wonder given this complex landscape that organisations look to reduce their results to a single measurement – but by doing so they sacrifice the detail and clarity necessary to meaningfully analyse assessment results and make effective changes.”
Review: My first reaction to the report is that it’s another competing methodology for lifecycle assessment, but that’s clearly not what the Green Grid intends. The purpose is to provide a common data centre understanding from which existing LCA methodologies (of varying values) can be applied. So the report defines the IT products and data centre facilities that should be included, the phases they go through, anticipated lifetimes, etc. that need to be taken into consideration.
The Green Grid has expert knowledge on all things related to data centres, so is well placed to provide the data centre background required for an LCA. It’s not necessarily so good at making the assessment itself.
The GHG protocol, generally considered the definitive source for calculating carbon emissions, has been developing ICT-specific assessments, which includes data centres. Publication of the GHG’s ‘Life Cycle Accounting and Reporting Standard for the ICT Sector Guidance' is imminent. The Green Grid acknowledges the GHG Protocol’s efforts (as one of many) in its report but says that any methodology used for calculating environmental impact can be consistently applied to data centres everywhere using its rules and definitions. So there should be no conflict there.