Making Your Commercial Facility Part of the Green Movement
Using cost-savvy programs to reduce energy and lower the emission of toxic air pollutants
Times have changed drastically from the practices of years past, where concepts such as energy efficiency were of little concern. Today, many owners of commercial and industrial facilities are operating their businesses using energy-efficient programs that are cost effective and easier on our ecosystem. However, according to experts, more effort is needed to lower the amount of toxic pollutants produced by industries in America and abroad.
"Commercial and industrial buildings in the U.S. contribute 45 percent of our national emissions of greenhouse gases," a recent government report noted. "Over the next 25 years, greenhouse gas emissions from buildings are projected to grow faster than any other sector, with emissions from commercial buildings leading the way — a projected 1.8 percent a year through 2030."1
An energy effi cient building refl ects the nature that surrounds it. Photo courtesy of the GSH Group
Global warming and overall worsening environmental conditions are not the only reasons to be an energy efficient organization. Besides enhancing your organization's image, there are other benefits to implementing an energy efficiency program. When executed properly, an energy program can increase an asset's value. Energy conservation extends the lifetime of equipment and reduces maintenance costs by operating fewer hours and at less than maximum capacity. Improving the comfort conditions through improved temperature control leads to improved tenant/occupation satisfaction and productivity. Energy efficiency is also one of the most important factors in achieving Energy Star and LEED building certifications — and there is huge financial incentive for buildings to carry those designations.
According to a study conducted in 2008, Energy Star and LEED buildings produce higher rental rates, occupancy rates, and sales prices in comparison to ones that are not Energy Star or LEED certified. Energy Star building rental rates are $2.40 per square foot higher than those without the Energy Star designation, and they also have a 3.6 percent higher occupancy rate. And if that is not enough to convince you of the importance of those certifications, then consider that they sell for an average of $61 more per square foot.
Being energy efficient also means saving money and having breathing room in your company's budget. An effective energy program has the added monetary benefit of reducing how much your organization spends per month on utilities. But it should be noted that that is not all that is saved. According to a U.S. Green Building Council study, green buildings save on average 24-50 percent in energy usage; 40 percent in water usage; 33-39 percent in carbon emissions; 70 percent in solid waste; and an astounding $17-48 billion per year in total health care costs due to an improvement in indoor environments.2
Steps to Develop and Implement Your Energy Reduction Program
Depending on your facility, there can be several ways to reduce energy consumption with minimal capital investment. There are many things to consider before implementing an Energy Reduction Program (ERP) in your commercial facility. A successful ERP requires dedication, expertise, capital, time and also management's support. Before you embark on setting up your ERP, ensure that you have secured all four of these resources:
- Establish a baseline. The first step in developing an ERP is to establish the baseline or starting point. In order to measure the success of the program, it is critical to understand the current consumption by compiling at least 24 months of the most recent utility bills and graphing the data in order to remove inconsistencies. Ensure data is collected from all of the utility meters and focus on consumption and demand, rather than the cost and utility rates.
- Identify areas of opportunity for energy conservation. Before considering expensive alternative energy options, start with fine-tuning the existing equipment and looking for areas of waste. You may not need to invest in expensive equipment upgrades in order to get your property to run efficiently. According to Energy Star, about 30 percent of energy in commercial buildings and industrial facilities is used inefficiently or unnecessarily.
Conduct a facility walkthrough at night and check for obvious energy wasters such as lights remaining on when not needed, pumps running throughout the night, and computers and office equipment left on. Also, check for heating and cooling running simultaneously. Ensure that a regular preventive maintenance program is in place for the building equipment which will enhance efficiency. After considering these low-cost solutions, investigate other opportunities for savings including equipment upgrades and capital investments, such as building management systems, variable frequency drives, lighting upgrades and window tinting.
Determine your payback and return on investment for each project. Check with your state and utility provider to learn about energy incentives. (Most states have incentive programs and many utility companies are also offering similar rebate programs.) Depending on your building, you may be able to implement several low-cost projects and reduce energy consumption significantly with a payback of two years or less.
- Develop and implement your ERP. Ensure that you have the required team to make your plan successful. This may include energy managers, project managers, and any necessary contractors.
- Monitor and manage the process. A successful energy program is not a one time project, but a continuous cycle. An efficient building can quickly turn inefficient if it is not managed properly. As changes in the facility occur, such as new tenants, extended/shortened hours, vacancies, weather changes, space reconfiguration, and equipment changes, you may need to modify your program accordingly.
In conclusion, implementing an energy program has many positive consequences. Despite an initial investment of time and money upfront, you will quickly start to save money as an organization over the long term, attract more business, have the potential to be recognized for your corporate social responsibility, and most importantly, act responsibly towards the environment.
1 United States Environmental Protection Agency, & United States Department of Energy. (2010). Energy Star. Retrieved from http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=about.ab_index
2 United States Department of Labor. (April 2010). Statistics: Employment and unemployment. Retrieved from http://www.dol.gov/dol/topic/statistics/employment.htm
Frankie McDonald is vice president at GSH Group (www.gshgroup.com
), an international facilities services and energy management provider established in 1895. He has more than 10 years experience providing energy efficiency solutions to the commercial building industry. Contact him at: Frankie.McDonald@GSHgroup.com
The journal is published six times a year by AFE, which also conducts the Certified Plant Engineer and Certified Plant Maintenance Manager credential programs and Facilities America conference.