Lifecycle Assessment

Sustainability Focus: Lifecycle Assessment

In order to better understand the climate impact of data center construction as a portion of the facility’s entire emissions, we performed a simple lifecycle assessment of our recently completed Council Bluffs, Iowa data center.

Photo of a tree in a meadow with the sun shining behind it.

Improving Efficiency and Transitioning to Renewable Sources of Electricity

We first estimated the carbon emissions due to construction materials and facility equipment. Next, we calculated the expected emissions from facility electricity and fuel use over the span of 30 years, given the current grid emissions factor and assuming a stable rate of “grid greening.”

We verified that the carbon emissions from a data center’s construction are currently a very small percentage of the facility’s total lifetime emissions. In the case of Council Bluffs, construction carbon amounted to 0.9% of the estimated 30-year emissions. Compared to the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) finding that building construction accounted for 28% of global emissions from the building sector versus 72% from building operation, construction of our data centers accounts for a much smaller percentage of total emissions than the average building.

Given that Council Bluffs is in a relatively carbon-intensive grid region, we repeated the calculations for our upcoming Santa Clara, California facility. California’s electricity grid has a higher percentage of renewable energy, meaning that the estimated lifetime emissions were significantly lower. However, construction carbon still accounted for only 2.2% of the facility’s projected total lifetime emissions.

This analysis supports our sustainability focus on improving efficiency and transitioning to renewable sources of electricity as quickly as possible because electricity accounts for such a large portion of our facilities’ carbon footprints. We recognize, however, that as the electricity we use becomes greener, the percentage of our impact that comes from construction will only increase, so we must also consider more sustainable construction materials and methods. For more details about this strategy, see Circular Economy.