Occupant Engagement, Proper Operation Help Meet Sustainable Operations Goals

By Jenny Carney and Trista Little  
OTHER PARTS OF THIS ARTICLEPt. 1: This PagePt. 2: Success Of Sustainability Initiatives Often Hinges On Reaching The Right PeoplePt. 3: Engage Facility Staff To Help Ensure Sustainable OperationsPt. 4: Human Behavior Can Make It Hard To Find Best Way To Encourage Sustainable Behavior

Whether you're going for full-scale LEED certification or simply instituting a more advanced recycling program, ensuring proper operation and encouraging occupant engagement can help you meet your sustainable operations goals.

A few years ago, a presentation at a conference featured a series of slides that showed the design target energy use intensity (EUI) of several new buildings, compared to the actual EUI of those same buildings during operations. Many had actual EUIs far higher than the target, and a few were performing better than expected, pointed out the presenter, Nadav Malin of BuildingGreen.

It's easy to point to potential sources of the discrepancy: the limitations of energy modeling, the quirks of operating a building during the break-in period, occupancy loads that were different than expected in the design, etc. Post-occupancy investigations revealed some factors at play. To name a few: higher than expected plug loads; malfunctioning window actuators; the level of engagement of the facility operator.

After looking at the case studies repeatedly, a pattern emerged. The best performing buildings had simple systems paired with engaged people; the under-performers had complex systems and disengaged people. Of course, it's possible to have amazing performance with complex systems paired with highly trained, engaged operators. But this assumes facility managers don't allow complicated technology to act as a surrogate for the human touch. It's often easy to forget to invest in the humans — including both occupants and facilities staff — in the same way that investments are put into fancy equipment.

Engage The Occupants

Whether an initiative is easy or difficult, how do you get tenants interested? Here are the top strategies, based on a survey conducted among property and facility managers (See "Green Energy Programs" below for more on this survey).

1. Talk to people about what you're doing (and listen to their responses). If you don't forge personal connections and make allies among your occupants, you're unlikely to get the sort of buy-in you need to implement sustainability or LEED-EBOM effectively. The power of allies is undeniable. You're also unlikely to learn what different people find compelling. Maybe some occupants are drawn to recycling, while others are more concerned with energy efficiency; play to the natural alignment of objectives where you can.

Secondly, this strategy allows you to showcase that you have skin in the game, too. You may be familiar with your sustainability initiatives, and the ins-and-outs of the LEED credits, but tenants often are not. Opening up the back of house areas to explain things like mechanical systems upgrades and LEED initiatives makes it clear that you aren't just passing on the burden of greening the building, but are inviting occupants to join you in some collective efforts for collective benefits. Plus, who doesn't love a good story about optimizing chiller efficiency? You may find that people are quite interested in knowing what sustainability means in their workspace. Furthermore, it's another chance to gain intelligence on what initiatives and messaging are likely to gain traction among tenants.

Green Energy Programs

A survey of facility and property managers identified how hard it was to engage occupants in sustainable initiatives. Broadly, respondents consider engaging with people about recycling to be relatively easy, while plug load management is very difficult. These results make sense. People are likely more aware of recycling to begin with, and it's tangible. Plug load reductions, on the other hand, may require hardware, software, and behavioral adjustments, and the outcomes can feel invisible, all of which conspire towards trickiness.

The full breakdown of easy-to-difficult initiatives is shown below.


1   Waste management — recycling

2   Energy efficiency — lighting

3   Energy efficiency — thermal comfort

4   Water efficiency — fixture water use

5   Alternative transportation

6   Waste management — source reduction

7   Energy efficiency — plug loads


Source: Survey by Jenny Carney and Trista Little

Continue Reading: Sustainable Operations: Tackling A Final Frontier In Sustainable Operations

Occupant Engagement, Proper Operation Help Meet Sustainable Operations Goals

Success Of Sustainability Initiatives Often Hinges On Reaching The Right People

Engage Facility Staff To Help Ensure Sustainable Operations

Human Behavior Can Make It Hard To Find Best Way To Encourage Sustainable Behavior

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  posted on 6/6/2014   Article Use Policy

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