Use ISO 50001:2018 as a guide for green data centers

Data centers use a lot of energy, and it can be difficult to navigate how to reduce energy use. ISO 50001:2018 provides guidance to create energy-saving plans and use targets.

The ISO 50001:2018 standard outlines a framework for a systematic approach to improving energy performance within an organization. Data centers often use the standard as they look to address their environmental impact, conserve resources and improve their bottom line.

The standard provides guidance for organizations to develop an energy management system (EnMS) to improve energy use. It also helps promote a culture of continual improvement of energy efficiency into their everyday practices. Organizations that follow this standard can make strides to achieve energy and cost savings through informed decision-making to implement energy-saving practices across sites, processes, equipment and operations.

How ISO 50001:2018 applies to data centers

Data centers continue to expand with the ever-increasing demand for storage, networking and computing power. This expansion means increased building costs and volume of equipment alongside growing power and cooling consumption. HVAC costs can account for a large part of a data center's power consumption, so effective energy management forms a critical part of sustainability strategies and is key to decrease energy-related costs overall. The standard helps facility owners and operators reduce running costs and power consumption to make better use of energy-intensive assets.

There is also guidance to develop and implement an energy policy unique to each facility and how to set achievable energy use targets. Data centers can use the policy to design relevant action plans, policies and procedures to reach those targets and measure progress.

For example, the policy could outline default rack layouts and HVAC needs that are more efficient than current designs. Facility owners and operators could use consumption data to identify the equipment that uses the most energy and implement a remediation plan. Energy policies could also influence equipment replacement processes to ensure assets are replaced with the most efficient models.

The benefits of ISO 50001:2018 compliance

Complying with this standard is not mandatory for data centers; however, following it has many benefits.

Reduced energy costs

This is the most obvious benefit of implementing the standard, as it offers verifiable savings for the facility. It reduces the data center's overhead costs, as Google discovered when it used an EnMS to save more than $1 billion over three years.

Reduced carbon footprint

Data centers can use their reduced energy data to demonstrate their commitment to environmental goals.

The continual improvement processes embedded in the standard can help organizations stay on target and reach those goals in the future.

Chart of benefits of ISO 50001 compliance
Complying with ISO 50001 encourages sustainability, energy efficiency and green energy practices at the organizational level.

Increased organizational engagement

A key to the success of any EnMS strategy is senior stakeholder buy-in. The ISO 50001:2018 standard uses a top-down approach to drive engagement on an EnMS and provides the entire organization with a structured approach to manage energy use.

Easy-to-follow and documented energy use benchmarks

While many data centers have some idea of their energy use and performance, following the ISO 50001:2018 standard encourages more rigorous monitoring. With a baseline, facilities can track energy efficiency over time.

Developing and documenting an EnMS gives more visibility into how a data center uses energy and where to improve performance. It outlines structured policies, processes and procedures to implement energy-saving opportunities and ensures the data center is always looking for ways to improve.

Help to implement the ISO 50001:2018 standard

Many third-party organizations, such as NQA and Integrated Assessment Services, offer audit guidance for U.S.-based data centers that wish to pursue it.

The ISO 50001:2018 standard follows the "plan-do-check-act" process for continual improvement of other ISO standards so that data centers can develop their own effective EnMS. For specific guidance for any given data center, the U.S. Department of Energy has created the 50001 Ready Navigator tool. The tool outlines 25 tasks organizations can use to implement an ISO-compliant EnMS, grouped by the seven sections of the ISO 50001:2018 standard:

  • Context of the organization
  • Leadership
  • Planning
  • Support
  • Operation
  • Performance evaluation
  • Improvement

Data centers can use this tool to plan, organize, strategize, design and implement their EnMS to comply with the standard. The tasks don't have to be completed in sequential order and are listed this way to align with the layout in the standard itself.

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