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
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
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 www.vfa.com.
• 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. www.ifmafoundation.org/deliverthegreen.pdf
• 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