To help facility managers start or improve their own Energy Star efforts, here are the last of six lessons drawn from conversations with some of the organizations that have Energy Star-certified dozens or hundreds of buildings. The tips include the need to stay the course with older buildings and to engage tenants.
Surprising as it may seem, experience shows that new buildings don’t have an unfair advantage over older ones when it comes to qualifying for Energy Star certification. “A well-run property, regardless of age, can score better than a building that’s brand-new,” says Hartsfield.
Fulton County Schools didn’t earn Energy Star certification for 91 buildings because the school system has a fleet of new buildings. Fulton County Schools went through a construction boom in the 1990s, producing many buildings built on similar plans, which made comparisons easier. “We could figure out why good performers performed good, and replicate that,” Clements says. Fulton County Schools found that the culprit was often climate control running at unnecessary times; nonprofit groups often use the schools after hours, and it was easy to leave the air conditioning running even after they left.
Even if a building’s age affects its efficiency, it may not always be for the worse. Pogue points out that older buildings may have windows that open, less glass, and thicker walls, all of which can be helpful — but the grand old soaring lobbies pose a problem.
Some buildings can’t achieve Energy Star levels of efficiency as they are. For example, a Manhattan office tower in Principal’s portfolio has a curtain wall of single-glazed glass that would be cost-prohibitive to replace. But in the normal course of the capital improvement cycle, HVAC or control upgrades may let more buildings achieve the designation. Around 30 years, Pogue says, tends to be “the sweet spot” when a building’s systems should be replaced anyway, offering an opportunity for big energy savings. Retrocommissioning an older property may pay for itself in one to three years, Hartsfield says.
Pogue says about 50 percent of a building’s energy use comes from lighting and plug loads, which fall inside the end users’ space. Working with tenants to install motion detectors or turn off computers at night can improve the scores further.
If tenants that pay their own utility bills aren’t required to share utility bill information with property managers, that can be a barrier to achieving certification for multitenant facilities. Hartsfield says new leases are being written to reflect the owner’s need for tenant utility data, and many tenants with pre-existing leases are happy to share the information when they recognize the benefit to themselves.
At most of its locations, Staples is a tenant, but Valair says, “We have good lease language, and good rapport with our landlords.” In their case, he says, they have sometimes been the one convincing the property owner that sharing data and working together to reduce energy use was worth it.
Geography can play a role in unexpected ways. Brandywine has concentrations of properties in Philadelphia and in Austin, Texas, and Hartsfield says that Austin tenants are “much more savvy when it comes to Energy Star,” possibly because the businesses are younger and more technology-oriented.
As more cities and states require buildings to disclose their energy use, Energy Star is a well-understood reporting tool, and a high score can demonstrate a commitment to sustainability. “We understand the EPA’s brand and our brand, and how to commingle them and make a stronger brand,” Valair says. “It’s a great partnership, but it also makes good business sense.”
“It’s not just about the labels,” Hartsfield says, “but about being conscious of energy efficiency. Labels are an achievement, but our actions are making sure we have properly running buildings.”
Energy Star is “a great vehicle to demonstrate to the taxpayers of the county that we’re using good fiduciary responsibility to operate the building,” Clements says of the Fulton County Schools. “We’re being good stewards of tax money.” As the number of certified buildings began to rise in recent years, schools “started saying, ‘I want my recognition, too.’ … It’s a little like their standardized test scores.”
David Lewellen is a freelance writer who covers facility issues.
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