Keeping a Sustainable Building Operating Sustainably
Keeping a sustainable building operating sustainably is challenging, requiring an attention to detail and such tools as building a baseline of information and doing walk-throughs and night audits. Still, once a facility is built or renovated, it can be tempting to assume the hard work is done and the structure will operate efficiently on its own.
Such thinking, however, can backfire. "Once you make a building and achieve LEED, you can't just walk away," says David Borchardt, a sustainability consultant and adjunct lecturer at Georgetown University. "You have to keep your eye on the ball."
Often that means paying attention to operational details. "A lot of little things add up to huge value; to tons of waste saved and cost taken out," says Sean Delehanty, Electronic Systems sustainability manager, BAE Systems. A case in point: When one BAE Systems' facility, which already was Energy Star certified, increased the amount of material recycled by 7 percent, it reduced its solid waste disposal by 10 percent, saving $10,000 annually.
Know Your Baseline
A first step in ensuring sustainable operations is identifying just how efficiently a facility is operating. As with any other function, it's impossible to improve what isn't measured.
Accurately measuring operations has become even more critical as facility managers increasingly are responsible for multiple buildings, rather than just one, says Allan Skodowski, senior vice president and managing director, LEED and sustainability with Transwestern Sustainability Services. Because they can't be in several places at once, they need to "use software to keep tabs on operations."
Energy Star offers a number of benchmarking tools and is a logical starting point, Borchardt says. Energy Star Portfolio Manager can be used to measure and track energy and water consumption, as well as greenhouse gas emissions, for one facility or a portfolio of buildings.
TD Bank Group uses Portfolio Manager to evaluate energy and water use and boost building performance across its portfolio, says Graham Takata, senior manager, energy and sustainability. Takata and his colleagues can set efficiency targets for each building, based on occupancy, age, and other parameters. "At all buildings, we want to drive energy savings and maintain high performance," he says.
One caveat: Energy Star provides information as a 12-month moving average, Borchardt says. As a result, it doesn't always provide the information needed to track day-to-day operations. A number of software products with this capability are available, he adds.
As robust as many software tools are, nothing can take the place of getting out from behind the computer and regularly walking through facilities. When an operation is out of kilter, it often means something in the automated system was overridden, Skodowski says.
In particular, night audits are a critical step to improving operational efficiency in the many office and academic facilities that are used during just a portion of each day, Borchardt says. It's not unusual to find equipment running even when a building is empty. Adjusting the controls so they operate only when needed can boost efficiency by 15 to 20 percent, he adds. "Don't just trust the computer."