Blending datacenters into Wieringermeer nature with biomimicry
Type the word “tree” into a search engine and 4.85 billion results will appear instantly. Search for #tree on Instagram and there would be more than 65 million pictures to scroll through. On Twitter, more than 1,100 tree-related posts were generated just this morning. Each and every one of these posts, pics, and opinions about trees – and every other topic imaginable, for that matter – are saved in data centers.
At the Microsoft datacenter near Middenmeer, Noord-Holland, a team of Microsoft employees have started planting trees outside the facility in addition to the ones stored digitally inside. This project marks the start of a long-term effort to ensure that datacenters blend into the natural landscape of the Wieringermeer polder.
Local community perspective inspires ecosystem project
Four years ago, Microsoft began construction on our 5,017 square-meter Middenmeer datacenter to fuel the rapid growth of the Netherlands’ digital economy. Because Microsoft is committed to the long-term health of the communities in which we operate and where our employees live and work, we hosted a series of listening sessions to learn about questions and potential concerns. The idea was to understand how the new facility was affecting the lives of people in the area and explore what we could do to be good neighbors. “The goal was to bring together different voices and get multiple perspectives so we could find the convergence points. That’s the discovery process. That’s how great innovation takes root,” said JoAnn Garbin, Director of Innovation, Microsoft. The approach worked. One mutual priority that emerged was the opportunity to ensure that our datacenter fit into the surrounding landscape.
Learnings from nature’s own strategies
Using the tools of biomimicry, a practice that learns from and mimics the strategies found in nature to solve human design challenges, the team started by learning how resilient landscapes function in the province of Noord-Holland. They researched local ecology, including native habitat types and biodiversity, soil health, water and air quality, as well as community agricultural practices. Microsoft then took their findings and determined which landscape solutions could be incorporated to enhance the Middenmeer datacenter campus.
Teaming up with local partners
Collaborating closely with a team of local landscape architects, the Microsoft team began the process of installing 150 native trees and 2,300 square meters of shrubs, grasses, and groundcovers around the campus that blend in harmoniously with the Noord-Holland landscape. Peter Mul Boomverzorging, a local landscaper, is overseeing the installation and maintenance of the plantings. The renovation began by prioritizing the side of the campus that abuts the A7 highway, because that’s where the datacenter is most visible to the community. As the trees grow, the facility will be hard to see behind the verdant screen that’s currently being created.
“This project isn’t just about sticking plants in the ground; it’s about learning from nature and finding ways to make our datacenters fit into the landscape. We expect the native plants we chose will mirror a healthy, resilient ecosystem and support biodiversity, improve storm water control, and prevent erosion while reflecting the natural beauty of Noord-Holland,” said Kaitlin Chuzi, Director of Biomimicry, Microsoft.
Step-by-step approach for long-term success
This work began in early March 2022. Developing the landscape at a pace of 75 square meters every day, the team will use the emerging spring season to measure the growth progress and plan for a second wave of planting in October before the frost comes.
“After getting so much valuable feedback from so many members of the community, it’s exciting to begin the planting! I’m already looking forward to the next phase of the project,” said Florien ten Hove, the Netherlands Community Lead at Microsoft. The lessons Microsoft learns from this pilot program will be incorporated into future projects, both here in Noord-Holland and all over the world.