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By Brandon Lorenz, Senior Editor
Educational Facilities Article Use Policy
Pop quiz: How does your building’s energy performance compare this year to last? How does it compare to other similar buildings across the nation?
If you can answer those questions in fewer than five minutes, that means you’re one of a growing number of facility executives using ENERGY STAR to monitor your buildings. ENERGY STAR is a free program that takes a variety of factors — utility data, degree days and building size — and boils energy performance down to one simple number that quickly shows how a building performs compared to others.
In a time of unstable energy prices, being able to rank a building’s energy performance against peer buildings across the country has big benefit. Today, vastly different types of facility organizations are using ENERGY STAR to rate their buildings, as well as using that rating as a communication tool to marshal support for energy efficiency improvements from the C-suite way down to the boiler room.
“One of the challenges in achieving energy management goals is it often requires buy-in of C-level executives and the facility engineer and everyone in between,” says Lauren Pitcher, communications specialist with ENERGY STAR Commercial & Industrial Branch. “How do you get everyone on the same page and talking the same language?”
When it comes to energy management, few organizations have the challenge of rallying disparate groups that school districts do. Success ultimately requires buy-in from the administration, school board, and taxpayers, to say nothing of students, teachers and the facility staff.
When Robert Schoch, director of business administration for the Council Rock School District in Norristown, Pa., had the district become an ENERGY STAR partner in 2005, the district was spending $3.7 million annually in energy costs. By 2007, the district’s energy bill had dropped to $3 million.
What’s more, if the district hadn’t taken action, the 2007 energy bill would have soared to $4.6 million, according to a financial analysis prepared by district staff. The actual 2007 bill translates into a savings of 34 percent compared to the business-as-usual scenario.
“In the budget-balancing exercise every year, we are making a lot of tough decisions,” says Schoch. “Our decisions have become easier because our energy budget dropped.”
Cutting the district’s energy budget so dramatically in just two years required a targeted communications effort to get support from the district’s various stakeholders, and to sustain the focus over time.
“The first step is that you have to make a commitment to get buy-in from all corners of the organization,” says Pitcher. “That’s not to say that without the commitment you can’t have success, but it’s the best predictor of success.”
To begin, once all of the district’s buildings received a score from the ENERGY STAR portfolio manager tool, Schoch had each building list its monthly ENERGY STAR rating on the school district’s Web site. “It is easy to go in the wrong direction in a hurry if you are not watching the data month by month,” says Schoch. Beyond simply publishing the information for the public, Schoch also made sure that the data were sent to each building’s principal and building operator.
“That has led to what I wouldn’t call rivalries, but good collaborative efforts,” he says. “What we saw was how really rapid improvements in a building lead to a rich discussion about what it took to achieve that improvement.”
Schoch says using ENERGY STAR has improved external communication as staff focus on networking with districts that are rated as top performers by ENERGY STAR. “Without the ENERGY STAR ratings, you don’t know who to talk to,” Schoch says. “You have to talk to the best practice people.”
With the ENERGY STAR program in place, Schoch also has better communication with outside organizations that want to work with the district on energy improvements. That’s because he knows how the buildings are performing, and knows where the low-hanging fruit is. Without that knowledge, some energy service providers may suggest projects that do more to benefit their profit margins than cut energy use. “There are so many people willing to come forward and do work and do capital improvements because they have reasons and interests of their own,” he says.
To demonstrate financial stewardship to taxpayers, the district uses ENERGY STAR information to publish a quarterly report on each building that includes the ENERGY STAR score, year-over-year financial savings and reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. Awareness about the importance of energy management is communicated to students through an essay competition. The winner is awarded a scholarship.
“We have had a real long-term recognition about the program that has been terrific,” says Schoch. “There has been real grass roots interest in doing whatever we can to promote environmental responsibility.”
A common misconception among facility executives is that most buildings are so efficient that it takes a lot of capital improvements to make improvements. Schoch said the district found just the opposite. “We have only spent $150,000 in capital,” he says. “It was all operations.”
Retrocommissioning led staff to realize that a part common to the unit ventilators in many classrooms had failed and was driving up energy costs. Watching the monthly ENERGY STAR scores caused the building operators to become significantly more aggressive about schedules and setbacks. That in turn produced the realization that the building operators needed better training.
“When you put in a computer control system, you need high skill levels at the building operator level,” says Schoch. “You need to take a strong attitude that they are going to watch things and be very diligent about setbacks as soon as possible. They need to be trained. It’s just not the same person who would run the buildings 20 years ago.”
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