Life Begins After LEED
Data Management for Continuous Improvement
By Greg Zimmerman, Executive Editor August 2010 - Green
Don't get Ron Pearlman wrong — he's very proud of his team's LEED Platinum certification. But Pearlman, senior facilities and administration officer at IFC, a huge Washington, D.C.-based development bank, also has some only-slightly facetious advice for other facility managers when they receive their LEED certification plaque. "Throw it away," he says.
The point: LEED certification, even at the Platinum level, is far from the end goal. Pearlman, who guided the LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance (LEED-EBOM) certification for IFC's 1.1 million-square-foot headquarters building, says that LEED was nice, but it's really just a one-time achievement. "The object is continuous improvement," he says. "The plaque does nothing but say 'for a certain period of time, you've done well.' LEED is not an end in itself. We want to maintain and improve upon our level of performance."
As more and more facility managers are achieving LEED-EBOM certification — 705 total projects by mid-August — once the plaque is on the lobby wall (assuming no one takes Pearlman's advice literally), they're looking at how to keep the momentum going, how to further savings, and how to keep their staff and the building's occupants interested in sustainability. Indeed, life after LEED is just as crucial as the submittal process to accomplishing what should be the real goals of LEED certification: reducing operating costs and minimizing a building's impact on the environment.
So to keep in mind that LEED certification is a journey, not a destination, it's useful to look at the stories and advice of a few facility managers, like Pearlman, who have made continuous improvement after LEED certification their goal.
Ask facility managers what the most difficult part of LEED-EBOM certification is, and the majority will say it is collecting the data, performing the calculations, and organizing it all into the correct format for submittal. The process is, in a word, a nightmare, says Jack Grinnalds, senior director of facilities management, John Hopkins School of Medicine. The reason it's so difficult is that LEED-EBOM requires data from a range of different types of facility initiatives, from system-level energy submetering to performing a waste stream audit to doing regular occupant satisfaction surveys. So facility managers have to scramble to all corners of both their departments and the organization as a whole — and even to outside vendors, in most cases — to get the data they need. But, Pearlman says, it's all worth it.
"The great benefit of LEED-EBOM is that if you adopt it, it enables you to gather data," he says. "It can be a real slog to get the information, but you have to. Then it's a way of systemically evaluating performance."
So designing procedures for capturing and analyzing all that data is really the hard part. And then it gets easier over time. "Now we have the data and we're gathering it on a regular basis," Pearlman adds. "Data is an awesome tool for saying 'Man, let's see how much better we can do.'"
One example of a way IFC hopes to use data to continue to save energy and improve its already impressive Energy Star score of 89 is by experimenting with setpoints in different areas of its headquarters building. The facilities organization has developed a system for tracking complaint calls and e-mails at its Facility Help Desk. The system tracks the precise number of contacts per hour and from which department or zone they originated. So if, for instance, the facilities team raises the temperature from 74 to 75 on one floor during air conditioning season, they could easily tell whether the number of complaints from that floor increases.
If the number doesn't increase, 75 would be the new setpoint. If complaints rise, the facilities team would go back to the original. By this method, they can keep pushing the limits of setpoints while maintaining a balance with occupant comfort. Pearlman says he expects this strategy alone to save hundreds of thousands of dollars. "Our organization is made up of data-driven people," says Pearlman. "We've learned a lot about our building population, and the fact that they respond to data means we have to manage with data, too."
So with all that data already under the belt, isn't it logical after the plaque is on the wall to continue to use and analyze it as a way to look for process improvement? Without question, says George Denise, global account manager for Cushman & Wakefield. Denise and his team were the guiding forces behind the LEED-EB Platinum certifications on all three of Adobe's headquarters buildings in San Jose, Calif.
"The emphasis on data is one element of LEED-EBOM that helps you continuously improve," says Denise. Denise and his team, in conjunction with Adobe, developed what they call the Integrated Building Interface System — a graphic display of all energy-using systems that helps them easily track energy use and benchmark it against the five most similar days (weather-wise) from the previous 12 months. If a system goes into the red — meaning it's outside acceptable parameters — the system automatically generates a work order for property managers to check the system for problems.
Denise says keeping on top of problems is another key to continuous improvement, and again LEED-EBOM helps, as it requires a retrocommissioning at the beginning of a LEED-EBOM initiative and provides several points towards certification for developing a system to continuously commission.
"Ongoing commissioning is a huge deal at Adobe," says Denise. "A building can easily go downhill if you're not constantly monitoring it." When the team went through the first set of LEED certifications in 2006, they found that Adobe's buildings, each less than 10 years old, already had a total of more than 300 manual overrides on various systems. As a result, the buildings were not functioning as efficiently as they'd been designed to.
"Generally, building engineers respond to complaints in a very work-order-driven way," says Denise. "So they do whatever they can to satisfy the customer or fulfill the work order. Usually, they have every intention of going back later, but they're busy, so they may forget."
For that reason, ongoing commissioning is a critical piece of the post-LEED puzzle. In order to improve, of course, facility managers must first make sure they're not going backwards. By developing a system for ongoing commissioning that includes everything from HVAC to controls to the BAS itself, even the most energy efficient facilities can be sure the base they've built for improvement is as strong as can be.
Life Begins After LEED