FEW PEOPLE ARGUE these days with the logic behind the expanding green movement. Most understand the need for minimizing the environmental impact of institutional and commercial facilities.
Every new product and technology that goes into facilities now must pass the green test. How environmentally friendly is it? Will using it harm the indoor or outdoor environment in some way? What do users need to know about storing and disposing of it properly?
The three R’s of education we learned about as children — reading, writing and ‘rithmetic — have been pushed to the side by the three new R’s of sustainability — reduce, reuse and recycle.
But does this approach go far enough? Does it work to focus only on these three elements and ignore an equally effective strategy — comprehensive, adequately funded building maintenance?
The issue came to mind as I was reviewing information from the announcement of the Clinton Climate Initiative’s Energy Efficiency Building Retrofit Program in May 2007 — www.clintonfoundation.org.
The program aims to reduce energy consumption in existing buildings. Buildings account for nearly 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the initiative, and in cities such as New York, this figure is close to 70 percent. Cities and their private building owners participating in the program will have access to the funds needed to retrofit existing buildings with more energy-efficient products, with a goal of reducing energy use by 20-50 percent.
The wisdom of the program is hard to deny. Managers understand full well that most buildings could use help curtailing or eliminating energy waste, whether the help entails higher-efficiency chillers, upgraded lighting systems, or retrofitted windows that minimize leaks and heat loss.
But in nearly every case where someone announces a new effort or initiative that aims to green some aspect of a building or even the entire building, the effort for some reason ignores the essential component of maintenance.
Without a comprehensive maintenance program — preferably preventive or even predictive maintenance — funded adequately to enable managers to continue the program through the life of the building, the results of big-ticket, high-profile sustainability efforts will begin to dwindle in a few years. Then the facility — and the environment — will start the slide back to square one.
As managers take part in more conversations and decisions regarding green activities, it might help their long-term maintenance efforts to remind everyone involved of the four R’s of sustainability in facilities — reduce, reuse, recycle and maintain. (Hey, if ‘rithmetic qualifies as one of the three R’s, why can’t maintain?)