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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : May/June 2007 : Building

Saving the Planet, One Building at a Time
Facility managers have the power to make a significant impact on the long-term viability of the built environment within their organizations.

by Lisa Raffin

When it comes to energy consumption and greenhouse gases (GHGs), you don’t have to look hard to find the bad news. Though accounting for only five percent of the population, Americans consume 26 percent of the world’s energy, making the United States the world’s largest energy consumer. In 2005, 86 percent of that energy came from fossil fuels that contribute to GHGs, producing 23 percent of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide.

The good news can be harder to come by. But every challenge presents opportunities, and as an individual, a corporate real estate manager or a member of the building industry, you can be part of a movement to reduce energy consumption and promote sustainable buildings. The most energy-efficient businesses in the United States already consume 30 percent less energy than their counterparts. What could your organization do with such savings?

Seizing the opportunity
The focus on facilities’ energy consumption today has undeniably been driven by the impact on the bottom line, as the cost of heating and cooling alone has in many cases doubled in just one to two years. Sharply escalating energy costs have forced facility managers in most corporations to redirect money from planned building repairs or improvements. And even though new construction techniques and technologies still garner the lion’s share of the sustainability spotlight, facilities that already exist represent the vast majority of building energy consumption and environmental impact.

The issue has created an opportunity for facility managers to gain support for investments in long-term energy-cost-saving measures as well as broader-based sustainability initiatives. By looking beyond energy consumption to address the range of issues that affect a building’s environmental footprint, facility managers can make a significant impact on the long-term viability of the built environment within their organizations.

Reaping the benefits of green
Sheila Sheridan, vice chairwoman of the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) committee on LEED-EB (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Existing Buildings), played a part in several pioneering green initiatives in her former role of director of facilities at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Sheridan is pragmatic about what will ultimately drive broader adoption of sustainability programs. While educational programs targeted at the public, property owners and vendors will have a slow but steady impact over time, the buyers and suppliers within the building industry need to see the return on investment for sustainability practices to become prevalent in the United States.

Those returns are becoming more tangible for many organizations today, many of which are increasingly taking advantage of utility rebate programs, and purchasing the growing number of products and services that support green initiatives.

What benefits do organizations expect from pursuing LEED certification for their existing buildings? Quantitatively, Sheridan reports that LEED-EB-certified properties extend the longevity of a building by 2.6 years, with an annual net savings of $170,000 when combined with best business practices. Studies have shown that sustainable building practices also enhance employee productivity, as a healthier workplace leads to healthier employees, translating to less absenteeism, greater retention and improved productivity.

Since energy represents the largest operational expense for most facilities—30 percent for a typical office building—an assessment of current energy usage and efficiency is a starting point for many organizations on the road to enhancing building sustainability. The results of such an assessment can lead to the identification of a variety of potential programs in both the short and long term to reduce energy consumption.

These programs may range from the installation of less-power-hungry fluorescent bulbs to the retrofitting of equipment that takes advantage of new technologies to heat or cool facilities more efficiently. Organizations can take advantage of significant rebates from their local utility provider when installing such equipment. These rebates are not only limited to HVAC equipment, however—some utility providers also offer rebates for companies replacing computer servers with newer models that employ more power-efficient processors.

Programs may also take the form of other improvements that are not part of a targeted energy program. Examples include increasing daylighting in the course of a remodeling to cost-effectively introduce more energy-efficient design, or retro-commissioning a building, resulting in energy savings due to operational corrections.

By implementing practices and systems that help reduce energy costs, organizations can also take advantage of tax savings. Energy Star programs currently enable owners or designers of new or existing commercial buildings to take a tax deduction of up to $1.80 per square foot if they save at least 50 percent of the heating and cooling energy of a building that meets American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) standards for energy-efficient design. Partial deductions can be taken for measures affecting the building envelope, lighting, or heating and cooling systems.

Recycling and green cleaning—using eco-friendly products for cleaning, or hiring maintenance firms that employ green cleaning practices—are other areas in which it’s easy to make an immediate impact. Environmentally preferable purchasing generally improves worker safety and health, and reduces related health liabilities, while diminishing health and disposal costs. These products are increasingly becoming comparable to their less-environmentally-friendly counterparts in effectiveness and cost.

For those ready to take a broader view of their facilities’ environmental footprint, carbon trading programs, which assign a dollar value to carbon dioxide emissions, are available in some regions to help curb the growth in GHGs. States such as California have rolled out programs for trading emission credits to promote “carbon neutrality.”

Green is Gold
Ultimately, sustainable practices need to be integrated into both the facility-management programs that organizations implement on a day-to-day basis, as well as into their long-term capital planning process. Facility managers today are on the frontline of this process, and positioned to raise the visibility and acceptance of these practices throughout their organizations.

As such practices increasingly make good business sense, organizations will drive rapid market adoption, of which we are only seeing the leading edge today. This more holistic and socially responsible approach to facilities management will ultimately make the jobs of facility managers more critical for their organizations, as well as for future generations.
By evaluating sustainability opportunities—including those related to energy usage, environmental impact and indoor environmental quality—and planning recapitalization with sustainability as a priority, corporate real estate managers can be heroes, making improvements that will not only improve the financial value of their real estate portfolio today, but also help to save the planet, one building at a time.

Lisa Raffin is vice president of Professional Services at VFA, Inc., a Boston-based firm providing software and services for facilities capital planning and asset management. She has more than two decades of experience in design, construction, planning and facility management practices. She holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Tufts University. Visit

Related Links:
• The USGBC offers a “LEED-EB Reference Guide,” which lists all criteria for certification.

• The International Facility Management Association’s Green Zone features the white paper “Deliver the Green,” which includes a discussion of the economic and operational benefits of sustainable practices for existing buildings.

• Cleaning Equipment, Accessories, Janitorial Supplies, Cleaning Chemicals and Sorbents, a catalog prepared by the U.S. General Services Administration, compares the environmental attributes of cleaning products.

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