Striving for energy efficiency in your data center is not only a great way to reduce operating expenses and reduce the environmental impact of the facility, but it is a way to garner PR points as well. Energy efficiency certifications are a way to provide independent verification of your efforts, and although they can be “gamed,” they still provide some metric for a more objective evaluation of data centers. But once you’ve earned that plaque, your job hasn’t ended.
What Your Certification Means
Whether you’ve earned an Energy Star, LEED, or some other certification, all you really have is an independent statement that your data center was at one time up to par according to a set of standards. The very next day after receiving the certification—as far as anyone else knows—your facility may well have thrown all the energy efficiency measures out the window. Of course, when it comes to energy efficiency, that would make little business sense: lower energy consumption means lower operating costs. Furthermore, implementing energy-efficient practices often requires supporting infrastructure with its own capital costs, and not employing that infrastructure wastes the opportunity to recoup costs and even gain a return on the investment.
Maintaining Energy Efficiency Certifications
Recertification may or may not be required by your certifying organization, but as certifications age, they mean less both to you and to your customers. Hence, keeping your facility up to standards is important, both to keeping costs down and to maintaining a PR edge. The following are several tips to consider for maintaining your certification.
- Don’t make the certification your main goal. This may sound a little odd, but it’s an important point, psychologically. An energy efficiency certification is like kudos for a good job: your focus should be on doing a good job, not getting the kudos. If you focus on pursuing strong efficiency practices, getting certified will be that much easier. You may still need to take a few extra steps to meet guidelines of the certifying agency, but chances are you’ll already be most of the way there.
- Work toward the best efficiency you can achieve, not just the bare minimum for certification. This is an extension of the above point. The certification shouldn’t be your primary focus, nor should its minimum standards be all that you aim for. If you can improve efficiency in a cost-effective manner—even if it’s above and beyond the certification’s guidelines—pursue it by all means. In some cases, this approach may over time help you work toward a higher level of recognition, as in the case of the various LEED levels (Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum).
- Keep track of changes in the certification standards. If you choose to (or are required to) recertify, you can avoid hassles by keeping an eye on the standard as changes are made. The conditions for certification may remain the same from year to year, or they may change in major or minor ways. In particular, for example, be on the lookout for changes to definitions: if the precise definition of data center space changes (as in the Energy Star program), then your task of achieving certification may become easier or harder, depending on your facility. Here, especially, is where aiming for better efficiency rather than just maintaining minimum standards is helpful—it helps you stay ahead of changes in certification standards, particularly if they become more stringent.
- Recertify as often as is practical. Your certification only says that your facility was up to standards at the time it was certified. The less recent the certification, the less meaning it has, especially if you’ve made major changes in the meantime. But certifications also cost money and don’t really do anything—of themselves—to improve productivity or efficiency, so some balance is required. Some standards may require periodic re-examination to maintain certification. Certainly you want to recertify within such windows to stay up to date. Either way, have a plan for preparation so that you’re not caught off guard when recertification time arrives.
- Make energy efficiency an ongoing project, not just a task for the couple months before recertification time. By creating an atmosphere in which energy efficiency is a perpetual concern for the data center, you will avoid the need to “cram” right before recertification. This is in many ways an extension of focusing on energy efficiency and not the certification for it, but it is important to note that the focus should be continual and not just at certain times. Of course, you have a business to run, and your sole concern isn’t just improving efficiency, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore efficiency for long stretches of time. Remember, the more you do to maintain and improve efficiency on a continual basis, the less you will need to do when recertification inspections loom.
- Stay informed about new energy efficiency technologies—and choose wisely among them. One way to maintain and improve efficiency is to know what new helps are out there. Of course, not all of them will be affordable, and many will likely be impractical, but by keeping informed, you can research and implement those measures that can provide a good return on your investment. Again, the more you do in the interim between recertifications to improve efficiency, the smoother the recertification process will be.
- Budget for energy efficiency. Fitting energy efficiency practices and investments into a budget that leaves no room for them is obviously difficult, particularly in a tight economy. So, as much as possible, make room in your budget for energy efficiency. Explain to the C-suite how better efficiency means lower operating costs and, eventually, a return on infrastructure investments. If energy efficiency is a priority in your data center (and it should be to at least some extent), then show it by investing appropriately in it.
- Be honest about the meaning of certifications. Remember that a certification is like a grade—it’s just one person or organization’s evaluation of your efforts. You can “cheat” on the test, and you can “work the system” to make things look better than they really are. Energy efficiency provides a variety of benefits, and the ability to achieve a certification is only one of them. Prioritize appropriately: aim for energy efficiency first, then for the certification (not vice versa).
What specific steps you need to take to maintain your energy efficiency certification depend on the standards you must meet and on the state of your data center. The tips above focus broadly on establishing the proper focus needed to make recertification a smoother and less stressful process. The main point is that if you prioritize energy efficiency in your data center operations, then recertification shouldn’t pose any hassles.
Photo courtesy of Sam Beebe, Ecotrust