Grainger, which has long been known as a leader in industrial supply distribution, today is rapidly becoming known as a leader in sustainable facility construction. In 2008, Grainger became the first industrial distributor to build a LEED-certified facility and has committed to building all new construction projects to LEED standards. Grainger’s latest project is the world’s first LEED Gold data center under the LEED v4 standard.

“The challenge with this particular project was that when we began, LEED v4 was not yet finalized,” says Jae Shim, a real estate project manager at Grainger. In preparation for the launch of LEED v4, more than 100 building projects participated in beta testing of the new standards.

“We were a beta participant, pursuing LEED credits as they were being written,” Shim says. “Understanding the new credits and being flexible throughout the design process was part of the challenge for the entire team.” CH2M Hill, the design architect and engineer of the data center, located on Grainger’s Lake Forest, Illinois, campus, was responsible for coordinating the LEED effort and keeping the entire team on track throughout the process.

To house its new data center, Grainger built a stand-alone structure. “Data centers are often  part of larger mixed-use facilities with  attached office spaces,” Shim says. By opting to construct a separate building, all of the mechanical and electrical systems could be designed solely to support the data-center space. The most impressive green systems used on the facility are the rooftop air-conditioning units. “The unique challenge was sizing the building to maximize IT space without limiting our ability to cool the space,” Shim says. “Our rooftop is optimized to fit the maximum quantity of rooftop units to support the target IT loads.”

Overheating is a major concern in any data center, even with Grainger’s Energy Star-rated servers. The RTUs  work by pulling outside air into the facility to alleviate the heat produced by the always-running servers. Due to the high temperatures generated by the equipment, even 80-degree outdoor air can be effective in cooling the space. Estimates show Grainger’s cooling system using 50 percent less energy than a traditional system.

The data center also incorporates a number of environmentally friendly technologies that Grainger is accustomed to installing across its properties. The facility is 100-percent LED-lit, inside and out, and is designed to manage rainwater efficiently. Employees use green cleaning techniques and recycle both internal and construction waste.

Further south, in Minooka, Illinois, Grainger completed construction on a one million-square-foot, LEED Platinum distribution center in 2013. There, a 2,200-square-foot solar wall uses innovative air and solar capabilities to reduce energy consumption. And at distribution centers in California and New Jersey, Grainger has invested in four megawatts of solar power.

Apart from reducing its own footprint, Grainger’s sustainability efforts are helping to shape other construction projects. The new data center garnered special praise from Rick Fedrizzi, president and CEO of the USGBC.

“The Grainger team has not only created a space that mitigates greenhouse gas emissions and saves money through reduced energy and water use,” Fedrizzi said in a statement, “but with the first LEED v4 BD+C project, they are also playing an essential role in driving the market toward healthier, better buildings for all.”