4 FM quick reads on sustainability
1. Who Runs Sustainability In Your Organization?
Today's tip of the day is about the chief sustainability officer position, and how more and more companies are choosing a c-suite executive to run sustainability efforts.
Who run the sustainability efforts at your organization? Is it someone in the facilities department (you?)? Is it a health, safety and welfare person who reports to the Chief Operating Officer?
If you're a smaller organization, is it your CFO? How about maybe a bright-eyed, 20-something in marketing whose only real requirement is passion for sustainability?
All these scenarios are actually fairly common these days. But, increasingly, organizations are tasking the bull by the horns and hiring a single person to set the sustainability agenda for the entire organization.
These folks come from a variety of educations and backgrounds (much like facility managers!) - but their one commonality is that they usually are promoted from within the organization. The reason for this is simple: Success for a sustainability executive depends on knowing the organization inside and out; knowing what the organization's priorities are, and therefore knowing how to frame initiatives within the boundaries of those organizational goals and strategies.
The December, 2012 cover story of Building Operating Management magazine includes the stories of several sustainability executives from large organizations. They all agreed that one of their main tasks in working on sustainability projects — whether greenhouse gas emissions inventory or recycling — is building bridges between departments in the organization, often working on projects and with people for whom they don't have direct responsibility.
Thankfully, most people these days recognize the importance of sustainability — not just as a "feel good, do-the-right-thing" proposition, but as a business imperative. They recognize that efficiency - using fewer resources, and therefore saving money — benefits the organization at large. After all, everyone's on the same team — and a rising tide raises all ships!
2. BIFMA Works To Improve Furniture Sustainability Ratings
The next place to gain LEED points may be the next chair you buy.
The Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA) is working with the U.S. Green Building Council to allow LEED points for the purchase of sustainable furniture. Currently, Reardon says, buildings can get LEED points in their emissions or recycling categories for buying furniture certified in those areas. In the near future, though, certified furniture could be credited through Pilot Credit 52, available to all LEED projects; or through LEED v4, which is expected to be released next fall.
Along with everything else in the "sustainable and green" universe, furniture is evolving to be manufactured, shipped, and recycled with less environmental impact, and the changes may ultimately save money over the entire life cycle, as well as saving resources.
But as facility managers seek information about products, it's often difficult to find the right type of information. More manufacturers are beginning to offer life-cycle assessments and environmental product declarations (EPDs) — ways that facility managers can weigh environmental and product selection criteria. It is still difficult to compare apples to apples; however, with credits in the upcoming LEEDv4 rating system expected to reward use of EPDs and life-cycle assessments (LCA), that may change soon.
A standard LCA contains every detail about a product that current science recognizes, including the impacts on air, water, and soil, the recycled content, health and toxicity issues, chemical content, whether it can be recycled at the end of its useful life, and more. And instead of a few square inches on the back of a box, it's a document that can extend to more than 100 pages.
Although life-cycle assessments have been around for years, environmental product declarations (EPDs) have burst on the scene much more recently. An EPD is, in effect, an executive summary of the exhaustive LCA. A significant difficulty is that, right now, no universal standards exist for writing EPDs. In particular, the industry currently lacks a full set of product category rules (PCRs) — the checklist by which an EPD should be written.
3. Open Plenum Can Lead To Sound Challenges
Acoustical design is an element in an overall green design, and acoustic properties of tiles are an important piece in controlling noise in a building — one element of indoor environmental quality. But green interior designs can sometimes create additional problems for acoustical engineers as they try to control sound.
The problem comes when ceilings are eliminated in favor of an open-plenum approach. While that strategy does reduce the use of materials, it also introduces acoustical problems. In the ABC equation for improving acoustics — absorb sound, block sound, and cover sound — ceiling tiles play the largest role in absorbing sound, says Niklas Moeller, vice president of K.R. Moeller Associates.
Moeller notes that studies show that acoustics in open-plenum buildings "are not great," and that while people prefer a green design, they complain about the noise factor. Building owners and operators have "a misperception that they can rely on one or two [of the ABCs], but you need all three," Moeller says. "Sound masking does not help with absorption. It controls background sound to help cover up noises in spaces that otherwise have library-like ambient conditions." Absorption, on the other hand, reduces volume level.
Green design isn't the only reason that office spaces are more acoustically challenging than in the past. Design strategies like lower partitions between workers, less space between workers and open work areas with conference tables, in addition to the elimination of the ceiling, all create a more noisy work environment.
Ceiling companies have developed products to help absorb sound in open-plenum offices. These products, which are available in a variety of shapes, may be suspended ceiling products designed to be installed over parts of a space or may be mounted directly on the deck.
A ceiling also plays a role in hiding speakers and wires. If there is no ceiling, the appearance of sound masking speakers and electronic components becomes a consideration.
4. Irrigation Issues: Upgrading for Savings
More maintenance and engineering managers nationwide are forced to deal with water restrictions when planning an upgrade of their irrigation systems, but the West Coast has been dealing with such restrictions for many years.
When Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore, Calif., implemented its computerized irrigation system in 2008, part of the motivation behind it was to more effectively comply with such water-reduction requirements.
The organization's science and technology research center, located 45 minutes east of San Francisco, features more than 300,000 square feet of landscapes, 50,000 square feet of hardscape, and 350,000 square feet of plantings over 13 acres of developed area.
Starting in 2007, the laboratory operated under a federal requirement to reduce its water use by 2 percent a year for eight years — a total that required a reduction of 16 percent, says Robert Holland, Sandia's environmental monitoring program lead.
The 2008 system was installed to help minimize unnecessary watering, Holland says. It measures wind and humidity, and when it senses rain, it shuts down within 10 minutes. With the previous system, irrigation could continue for six-eight hours before workers manually turned it off, resulting in hundreds of gallons of water being wasted.
"In 2009, we actually employed the flow-sensing device or option that goes along with the control system," says Gerald Vincent, the team lead for facilities at Sandia. "At that time, we made some additional changes with the master valves. When making the installation, that was a challenge.
"We weren't aware that there were additional equipment devices for the irrigation system that would go along with getting to the point of seeing the water management reduction we were looking for. The evapotranspiration (ET) base, we haven't used to its full capacity. We're bringing that online. There are several challenges there, but we're working through them with the local vendor."
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