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Differences between Green Globes vs. LEED for data centers

Consider Green Globes and LEED certifications when building green data centers. Learn the differences in how the assessments are done, the costs and documentation needs.

Facility owners and data center operators that seek to make their data centers more sustainable and energy-efficient have many green standards to consider. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and Green Globes are two certification options available to data centers.

Both certifications use green data center standards to assess facilities. While they both examine energy efficiencies in facilities, there are differences between the two in how they score facilities, how to obtain certification and other areas.

What is LEED certification?

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a green building rating system used around the world and developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). It provides a framework for buildings and communities to create "healthy, highly efficient and cost-saving green buildings," according to USGBC. There are two main LEED certifications for data centers: LEED v4.1 Operations + Maintenance (O+M): Data Centers in mixed-use buildings and LEED v4.1 Building Design and Construction (BD+C): Data Centers.

What is Green Globes certification?

Green Globes building certification is a green certification system first developed in the U.K. and Canada before the U.S. adapted it in 2004. In the U.S., it is primarily based on ASHRAE standards and the American National Standards Institute/Green Building Initiative (GBI) 01-2010: Green Building Assessment Protocol for Commercial Buildings.

Green Globes evaluates the environmental sustainability, resilience and effects on the health and wellness of occupants for commercial real estate. The program offers four tiers of certification through a points-based system for any real estate project, including data centers.

Differences between Green Globes vs. LEED

Both certification programs are concerned with sustainability and green building practices and are voluntary, but there are some differences.

LEED certification has tech-specific certifications data centers can use that encompass not only the building and its operation, but also the technology that might be housed within.

Regular LEED certifications apply to the heating and cooling needs for occupant comfort and other energy efficiencies, while LEED O+M: Data Centers addresses the unique needs of the energy-intensive buildings to cool the tech housed within.

Some slight differences are found in what each program looks at for certification:

  • LEED certification concerns itself with the building, facilities and operations of the data center -- for the LEED O+M: Data Centers program specifically.
  • Green Globes mainly looks at the facility and building projects only.

The biggest difference, however, is in the way certification is done.

For the LEED program, data center admins and operators submit documentation through the LEED online portal for review and adjudication by LEED experts and panels.

For the Green Globes program, applicants manage adherence to the requirements throughout a project lifecycle and then do a virtual walkthrough with a Green Globes assessor.

How to get certified

To get Green Globes certification, data centers must pay $1,500 to register the project and fill out the online questionnaire. If they pass this stage, they are charged a fee based on the size of the facility and the type of assessment -- New Construction (NC), Sustainable Interior, Existing Building (EB) or Core & Shell.

Once the project is complete and the data center has met all the outlined requirements, it usually does an online, video-based walkthrough with a Green Globes assessor, who awards points based on the program requirements. Points are awarded for various categories -- project management, energy, water efficiency, emissions, etc. -- up to a maximum of 1,000. The Green Globes assessor rates facilities on a percentage of applicable points, based on the following ratings:

  • One Green Globe, where applicants achieve 35%-54% of applicable points.
  • Two Green Globes, where applicants achieve 55-69% of applicable points.
  • Three Green Globes, where applicants achieve 70-84% of applicable points.
  • Four Green Globes, where applicants achieve 85-100% of applicable points.

To get LEED certification, data center admins and operators must pay a flat registration fee calculated on a per-project (building) basis. Organizations must pay a separate fee when they submit all the documentation and data necessary for certification. It's based on a per-project (building) basis, the size of the project and the rating system/program.

Information needed to apply usually covers the various requirements of the program, such as Location and Transportation, Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, and Indoor Environmental Quality. The next step is to upload all the necessary documents to the Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI) online portal for a technical review. The GBCI panel offers a preliminary review based on the scores achieved at one of four levels:

  1. Certified: 40-49 points.
  2. Silver: 50-59.
  3. Gold: 60-79.
  4. Platinum: 80+.

Applicants can accept the preliminary review as final and receive the certification or move on to a final review. They can also appeal any review for an optional fee if they don't agree with the assessment and rating.

Uses for LEED and Green Globes certification

The uses for both generally follow the type of certification data centers are looking to apply for and achieve.

For example, the Green Globes NC certification evaluates new construction and major renovation projects, while the EB certification is used on individual buildings or an entire real estate portfolio that's already built. Looking at the GBI's directory, CyrusOne has two data centers certified for Three Green Globes EB for 2021 in Illinois and one at One Green Globes EB for 2022 in Arizona. The Equinix DC15 data center, built in 2020, received Three Green Globes NC certification that year in Virginia.

Meanwhile, the Microsoft DM4 data center in Iowa was built toward earning a LEED BD+C: Data Centers Gold certification, the Verizon Colorado NEC was converted from a semiconductor plant into a data center and earned the LEED O+M: Data Centers Gold certification, and the Equinix DA11 in Texas has a LEED BD+C: Data Centers Silver certification. Equinix earning both LEED and Green Globes certifications shows that the same company can earn both types of certifications for their facilities.

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