Why Facility Managers Benefit from LEED EB Certification

Many people think that getting the facility manager on board for a LEED for Existing Buildings (LEED EB, or LEED EB O&M) project can be difficult process. The certification process is an extremely involved process and requires a lot of work on a facility manager’s part and can take years to complete. Many facility managers already have a lot of responsibilities and may not have time to take on the additional work. Building owners may feel as though a facility manager will not see the value in a plaque in the building saying that the building is sustainable; that they are more concerned with ensuring that the day to day performance of the building is sustainable.

A LEED EB project can not be successful without the commitment of the facility manager. There are a lot of benefits to a facility manager in achieving building certification and conveying these benefits clearly should bring most facility mangers on board with the project.

According to a recent article in Building Operating Management Magazine, facility managers, who have achieved LEED EB certification, not only see the value in following the LEED EB guidelines, they also see great value in pursuing certification of their buildings. Certification not only provides confirmation that a facility manager is operating a building well, but it also provides an opportunity for a facility manager to improve upon their building’s performance.

The LEED EB plaque provides building operators with confirmation that they are operating their building efficiently and sustainably. Without this proof there is no way of proving to owners, tenants, and other stakeholders that they operation and maintenance routines are effective. The article included a survey of 63 facility managers, who had used LEED EB. When asked, “What was the impetus for your decision to seek LEED-EBOM certification?”, the following responses were received:

  • 75% To compare ourselves favorably with other organizations
  • 37% Rigorous structure for sustainability; one goal to work towards
  • 24% Recognition from the C-suite for sustainability efforts
  • 13% Other

 The biggest motivation was the ability to compare a building against other buildings. Building certification is an effective way to compare a building’s operation to another building’s operation. You can not compare kilowatt hours to kilowatt hours since there are too many building variables that would have to be taken into account when making this comparison, such as size, number of occupants, building use, and hours of operation. Also you are energy use when looking at kilowatt hour consumption, you are not comparing tenant satisfaction, indoor environmental quality, or other building performance metrics, which LEED EB accounts for.

You need to compare a building  to understand how well it is performing. A building’s performance can not be evaluated against itself. Certification creates a means of making this comparison.

In the article, one facility manager pointed out that facility managers are already doing all the things that are in the LEED EB handbook, certification is just a matter of operating and maintaining the building to the LEED EB standards and documenting that they are doing so. Facility managers are operating all of the buildings systems. Using the LEED EB guidelines can help facility managers to improve upon what they are already doing.

Following the LEED guidelines will force building operators document their existing procedures and strive to make their building more efficient. Documenting procedures and building performance is a best management practice that would help to fine tune a building’s operation. For larger buildings, documenting building procedures would also provide consistency throughout the organization. This consistency will result in only the best management practices being followed rather than a variety of different  practices.

In my experience, facility managers are on board when it comes to any kind of energy efficiency improvement or documentation of the work they do. Facility managers and tenants do not speak about a building in the same way. Facility managers evaluate a building’s of kilowatt hours, cubic feet of gas, temperature, and other units. Tenants and owners evaluate a building in terms of occupancy rate, comfort, and image. A LEED EB plaque is a way for facility managers to show the tenants and owners that they are operating the building sustainable without having to discuss energy consumption and other technical aspects of the building.

Achieving LEED EB Certification may seem like a daunting endeavour, but the benefits to the building, which result from the certification process, far exceed the benefits of the plaque on the wall. Certification is an assurance that facility management is operating the building efficiently and sustainably.

The Greenest Building is the One that's Already Built

In talking with building owners and operators at trade-shows, I have found that many people feel as though their existing buildings are too old to become energy efficient and sustainable. They feel as though buildings built in the 70’s, 80’s, or even in the 90’s are too outdated to become energy efficient.  In reality, buildings that are twenty, thirty, or even older have great potential for becoming green buildings. Existing buildings will not reduce their energy use on their own. People need to investigate the buildings and identify where energy is being wasted or used inefficiently. There are numerous energy saving opportunities within existing buildings, that if implemented could yield significant savings.

The Empire State Building is a great example of an older building lowering their energy use and becoming more sustainable. The building underwent a $20 million dollar retrofit over the past two years to lower its energy use. The project included upgrading the building’s windows, installing reflective barriers behind radiators, reducing plug loads, reducing lighting loads, replacing constant air handling units with variable air volume units, switching to demand controlled ventilation, and retrofitting the chiller plant. This may seem like an enormous amount of capital and you might assume that the payback on the retrofit can not justify the high upfront cost. However, prior to the retrofit, the annual cost of energy for the Empire State Building was $11.5 million dollars. The retrofit is expected to reduce the buildings energy consumption by 38%, resulting in an annual savings of $4.4 million dollars. Putting the $20 million investment into perspective shows how financially attractive this project was. For more information on the Empire State Building retrofit project visit www.esbsustainability.com.

Before deciding that a new building is needed to reduce energy consumption, evaluate your existing building to see if it can be transformed into a green building. Think about how much more it would cost to rebuild, rather than retrofit, the Empire State Building. From this perspective, $20 million dollars for a green building could be considered a deal!

Many people consider it to be more green to retrofit and reuse an existing building rather than to build from the ground up. Retrofitting avoids both the demolition of the existing building and the construction of the new one. Even if efforts were made to recycle as much of the existing building material as possible, there would still most likely be a large amount of waste  that would end up in a landfill. Consider just how much material would have to be  manufactured and shipped to the site to build a new building. Reusing a building not only saves a tremendous amount of money, but energy and material as well and is the more environmentally friendly option in the long run.

My company has already had to cut back operating costs and staff significantly and can’t afford to fund unnecessary projects. How will I be able to afford building upgrades?

Many of our recommendations have a return on investment (ROI) of less than 1 year.  With short payback periods, you will have money back in your pocket which you can reinvest into additional building upgrades, or reallocate into other areas.  According to the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA), energy represents the single largest controllable operating expense for office buildings, typically a third of variable expenses.  RCx Building Diagnostics can help you to take control of your energy use and save money.

How much money can I save on my energy bills?

In the U.S., office buildings spend an average of $1.65/square foot on energy each year.  It is estimated that up to 30% of the energy used in office buildings is wasted.  This means that for a typical 30,000 square foot office building, nearly $15,000 is spent annually on energy that is wasted!  Energy Audits and Retrocommissioning can identify and eliminate where your building is wasting energy, so you can stop spending money on energy you are not utilizing.  (Source: Energy Information Administration)

Being Proactive in Uncertain Times

Last week, the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE) held their annual GLOBALCON conference in Philadelphia.  The attendees included energy professionals from government agencies, services companies, and facility management.  The message of the conference was clear: the way we use energy is quickly changing.

The cost of energy is projected to increase in the future.  There are several factors that are contributing to this increase.  The pending carbon cap and trade bill will make traditional sources of energy, such as coal and oil, more expensive.  Energy producers and consumers will be held accountable for the cost of the green house gas emissions that are associated with their fuels.  Additionally, in Pennsylvania and other parts of the county, the electricity rate caps are expiring, if they have not yet. People realize that this will cause the price of electricity to increase, but no one is sure by exactly how much. Another factor is increasing demand.  Adding capacity and updating our countries electricity grid is not a low cost endeavor. (more…)