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Sustainability

Going Green Saves Green

February 01, 2011
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It is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the impact of the current economic climate on commercial real estate.

It''s also becoming essential in today''s market for businesses to focus on effectively developing energy efficient strategies in the utilization of natural resources.

And, although many property managers are allocating the majority of their resources towards maintaining a profitable operation and relegating the push to go green to the back burner, green practices — some implemented with little or no capital investment — can help save significant dollars in daily operations.

It Starts With An Audit

In today''s market, it''s essential for building managers to understand energy expenditures.

Cognizant facility management teams dig deep into the layers of a building to achieve maximum savings.

This process begins by performing a complete energy audit, including such things as the building envelope and insulation; electrical, lighting and hot water systems; heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, pumps, fans and motors; energy management software; electronic equipment; and utility rates, demand and consumption.

The next step is to develop a comprehensive, long-term energy management strategy to assure that the property will be prepared to respond to the changing market, as well as facility operating cost challenges.

Recommendations for immediate improvements often start when evaluating the current energy management system.

Minor programming changes, such as adjusting settings so lighting isn''t left on 24/7 or the HVAC system doesn''t run on the weekends, can result in big savings.

Myth: You Have To Spend Green To Go Green

In order to be creative with clients'' energy management budgets, many auditors and consultants try to suggest options that are either cost-neutral or have reasonably affordable upfront costs — such as installing low-flow or waterless toilets in restroom facilities.

By doing this, some facilities can realize savings of 700,000 gallons of water in the first year alone.

If the budget is tight, auditors and consultants advise clients not to abandon sustainable management approaches and enforce passive conservation, which requires no additional capital investment — just communication and continuing education.

Passive conservation initiatives include encouraging employees or tenants to turn off lights when not in use, staging nighttime lighting by floor in high-rise buildings, lowering window shades on the south side of the building during periods of direct sun exposure and printing double-sided documents.

Even something as easy as implementing a recycling program can impact the bottom line — lowering the tonnage rates of trash taken to the landfill and selling recyclable materials.

Other low-cost efforts to green an existing building include:

  • Landscaping — low-maintenance native plant species can greatly reduce irrigation costs and monthly landscaping fees

  • Automatic or motion-sensor lighting

  • Partnering with green vendors along the supply chain

  • Non-toxic, biodegradable, environmentally safe cleaning and paper products

  • Integrated pest control services

  • Sustainable and recycled materials such as paint and carpet with low volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions.

The ROI Factor

While most clients embrace running greener operations, providing them with a detailed cost-benefit model can ease any apprehension over upfront costs by helping them better anticipate how quickly an investment can be recouped.

For example, businesses can net significant savings by installing eco-friendly, energy-efficient lamping indoors and out — and the return on that investment is typically quick.

Using light-emitting diodes (LEDs) for exterior lamping applications has become a popular option for parking lot and street lighting because LEDs use very little energy and have no filaments to burn out.

Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) also have become much more efficient in recent years, as the ballasts have been improved to the point that the required voltages can be greatly reduced.

In addition, some CFL options substitute extremely well for halogen or metal halide without retrofitting the fixtures.

These new lamps produce more lumens with lower wattage, lasting up to five times longer than their predecessors.

Preventative maintenance can go a long way in generating a positive return on investment as well.

Operating facilities at peak performance conserves energy and extends life cycles of equipment.

This is done by implementing a frequent maintenance program, controlled and scheduled electronically, to ensure that the building systems are maximizing their functionality.

Staying Ahead Of The Curve

In order to better respond to the present and future energy market, facility managers must keep up with industry trends.

For example, the continuing evolution of computer-aided design (CAD) software for building design has produced new add-on tools with increasingly accurate algorithms for energy modeling as well as embedded energy properties for many materials and features.

Using the most effective tools when performing energy audits increases assessment accuracy and leads to client savings.

Also, with new building codes constantly emerging from the green movement, managers need to keep tabs on what regulators and legislators are thinking.

Buildings contribute roughly half the carbon emissions in the environment, and progressive elements in the industry are looking at ways to document, measure and reduce greenhouse gas creation in materials and processes.

Another interesting trend comes from the financial sector.

Lenders and insurers have come to see green buildings as better for their bottom line and are working to get new reduced-rate loan products and insurance packages into place.

They''re realizing that green building owners are more responsible, place higher value on maintenance and are less likely to default as a result of lower operating costs of buildings.

Setting A Standard

As a property or facility manager, you can help commercial real estate owners avoid letting economic concerns stall environmentally friendly upgrades to their buildings.

By understanding trends, accessing the latest available green technology and providing a comprehensive energy management strategy, you can offer sustainable solutions and significant cost savings to clients.

Robert Owens, co-founder and president of O,R&L Facility Services, has more than 22 years of experience in the real estate management and construction industries. Under his leadership, O,R&L has become an industry leader in facility management, property management and janitorial services for properties and companies. O,R&L is also a member of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). For more information, go to www.or-l.com.

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