This article provides an overview to some of the specific data centre environmental issues that are relevant to data centre operations.

Fuel storage and dangerous substances

The Seveso III Directive is aimed at preventing major accidents involving dangerous substances and limiting the consequences in the event of such a major accident. If a data center stores 2,500 tonnes or more of gas oil (i.e. diesel fuel) for the purposes of running back-up generators it will be classified as a lower tier site. If a data center stores 25,000 tonnes or more of gas oil it will be considered an upper tier Seveso site. Each classification brings specific requirements of the Directive into play.

Potential for spills

The potential for spills from a back-up generator’s fuel storage tanks should be considered. All fuel storage tanks used for the purpose of running back-up generators at data centers should incorporate secondary containment measures such as bunding. This means that in the event of a spillage, an environmental pollution incident may be limited or prevented. Regular integrity testing is also recommended.

Energy auditing

The Energy Efficiency Directive requires companies that are not Small and Medium Enterprises (non-SMEs) to have energy audits carried out by qualified and/or accredited experts. Further audits must be conducted every four years from the date of the previous energy audit. However, non-SMEs that are implementing an energy or environmental management system (certified by an independent body according to the relevant European or International Standards e.g. ISO) are exempted from the energy auditing requirements, provided that the management system concerned includes an energy audit on the basis of the minimum criteria set out in Annex VI of the Directive.

Waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE)

The WEEE Regulations impose obligations on persons who supply electrical and electronic equipment to the Irish market, whether as retailers, importers or manufacturers. The purpose of the Regulations is to contribute to sustainable production and consumption by the prevention of WEEE and, in addition, by the re-use, recycling and other forms of recovery of such wastes so as to reduce the disposal of waste. Operators of data centers will need to consider whether they come within the scope of these Regulations. There are a number of approved producer compliance schemes that assists companies in meeting their obligations for the responsible management of WEEE.

Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS)

The RoHS Directive limits the amount of six hazardous substances that can be used in the manufacturing of electrical and electronic equipment. Manufacturers must ensure only compliant products are produced. The implications for data center operators is that all electronic products, sub-assemblies or components imported into Ireland for use must be RoHS compliant, unless a specific exemption can be availed of.

Ozone Depleting Substances (F-Gases) in cooling systems

EU policy aims to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and a Regulation ((EU) No 517/2014) seeks to achieve this objective through market bans, the phase down of hydrofluorocarbons and additional reporting and leak-check requirements. Based on the type of cooling systems in place, data center operators will have to consider whether the Regulation applies.

Noise and generator emissions

Data center operators should ensure that noise and fugitive emissions from back-up generators are mitigated and reduced as much as possible in order that they do not cause nuisance to neighboring properties. Noise nuisance claims tend to feature regularly in court cases.

Waste management

Data center operators must ensure that all waste is recycled or disposed of in the correct manner. This means employing the services of a waste contractor who is licensed to accept, transport and dispose of/recycle the waste.

Potential sources of pollution from adjoining land-use

Before a data center is built at any location, the risk of pollution travelling from neighboring properties onto the data center property should be assessed and a baseline established. Environmental due diligence prior to purchase or leasing property is strongly recommended.

Health and safety law

In Ireland, health and safety law applies to both employees and employers, imposing obligations on both of them, with the majority of obligations falling on the employer. The employer has the primary responsibility to ensure that they provide a safe place and safe systems of work for their employees and that this is documented. They must take appropriate measures to ensure that the health and safety of their employees is protected. There is an important qualification to this duty: it applies only “so far as is reasonably practicable”. However, it is a very high standard to meet and the courts interpret this against the employer. Obligations are also owed to others i.e. non-employees who may be affected e.g. contractors and visitors.