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Home arrow Blog arrow 2/15/08-Energy Costs Drive Sustainability

2/15/08-Energy Costs Drive Sustainability PDF Print E-mail
Written by George R. Lohnes   
Friday, 15 February 2008
Re-examine past roi assumptions and make the retrofits and procedural/maintenance changes, including green cleaning practices, necessary for a more efficient future.

We’ve been seeing even more on environmental issues lately, precipitated largely by the run-up in energy prices. Energy conservation is top news and it’s bringing the broader topic of sustainability along for the ride. There’s no question we’re entering a new era for sustainability. China, India and other emerging economies are competing for scarce resources. Out of necessity, alternative energy sources, solar, wind and even nuclear, are back on the table, and people around the world are getting serious about conserving resources.

Discussions on sustainability are being recast into economic arguments — and economics, as we all know, is a powerful force. Businesses recognize that environmental stewardship is a worthwhile and economically viable goal in its own right. For building owners, issues such as energy management, recycling and sustainability are moving from being viewed as “costs” to “investments.”

The New Sustainability Equation

Energy efficiency is, by definition, environmentally friendly. By reducing energy consumption we are reducing strains on the supply chain, directly reducing costs, and generally reducing pollution and other byproducts.

In a perverse way, the energy price run-up provides an opportunity to promote sustainable building management practices. Companies benefit from lower costs and efficiencies, which, in turn, reduce pollution.

Moving sustainability from the cost side of the ledger delivers both long-term and short-term financial benefits. It should be a major design consideration when renovating or building new. And although the economic arguments are compelling, other factors are coming into play. The Federal government, as well as many states and cities, are mandating green building standards for government buildings and for private developments.

Maintaining Your Way to Sustainability

The vast majority of building managers are working with far more existing buildings than new buildings coming online. They have to deal with the practical realities of building infrastructures that are inefficient and designed to lower standards. Yet, proactive facility managers recognize that every building system and management decision impacts sustainability, as well as occupant health and productivity, Indoor Air Quality (IAQ), and life cycle management for equipment and consumables.

Major building system upgrades offer the most potential for increased efficiency and energy savings. We’ve been hearing this for years; however, the equation has now changed. With petroleum costs hovering at record highs, and likely to remain highly volatile for the foreseeable future, it makes sense to re-examine earlier decisions. For example, energy assumptions in facilities condition assessment studies should be updated.

We tend to think of maintenance in terms of equipment life cycle, reduced downtime, lower levels of corrective maintenance, and higher productivity. Proper maintenance goes beyond changing filters or lubricants according to specifications. More proactive practices are warranted. Monitoring for wasted heat or excessive vibration, and keeping track of all performance metrics, leads to discovering wasted energy and, in some cases, prevents environmental damage.

Break-fix and preventative maintenance programs do not have the capabilities to comprehensively analyze past maintenance records, look at system components, and provide the data necessary to develop strategies to address energy and environmental concerns. An effective predictive maintenance (PdM) program provides a roadmap for effective energy/environmental management for all major building systems.

Facilities Services

It also makes sense to look at building operations, such as custodial services — an area that is not necessarily energy intensive but uses a number of chemicals that have tremendous environmental impacts.

Traditional cleaning chemicals are generally petroleum based, which makes their use and disposal problematic and the environmental costs high. They emit volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) that severely impact air quality and can affect the health of cleaning staff and building occupants.

The industry has made substantial progress (motivated by environmental rather than petroleum consumption issues) in developing viable alternatives. Citrus-based cleaner equivalents are now available. They have come down in price and are now on par or better than petroleum-based products.

The petroleum consumption impact of moving to alternative chemicals is direct — there is no petroleum in the products. The impact on workers and building occupants is less direct but still significant. Organizations such as Green Seal ( certify products that meet environmental standards.

Sustainability-centered work rules also reduce energy consumption and improve IAQ. Make sure that your building services contractor (or staff) is informed about the latest cleaning techniques and not only uses environmentally friendly products, but also has updated operational procedures to properly store, dispense and use cleaning chemicals.

For instance, cleaning staffs tend to overuse chemicals under the mistaken impression that more is better. This can be harmful to the worker and to building occupants. Many environmentally sensitive cleaners have mixing/dispensing stations that regulate product usage. By employing dispensers and enforcing their correct usage, IAQ and worker health are improved.

Cleaning equipment, such as vacuums, floor scrubbers, sweepers, carpet extractors, etc., also comes into play from two perspectives — energy and efficiency. In the past, environmental concerns were actually at odds with energy management for some equipment. High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, which trap smaller particulates, created more load on motors, causing them to consume more energy and fail more quickly. Now, advances in filtering technology and a better understanding of how to maintain the equipment have all but eliminated this tradeoff.

Other techniques, such as spot cleaning carpets as soon as they are soiled, save energy by reducing the need for frequent area cleaning using large, powered carpet extraction equipment. There are many other management-directed initiatives, such as storing equipment close to the work area and regulating when and how equipment is recharged, that enable more efficient facilities management.

Finally, take another look at your recycling programs. We tend to think of them in terms of waste mitigation, but they are also energy management initiatives. In commercial buildings, office waste — such as cardboard and paper, plastics and cans — should be recycled. This can have substantial energy and environmental benefits.

Manage in the New Millennium

There is no question that sustainability will continue to be a growing business concern. Worldwide demand for commodities will grow and geopolitical events will affect both costs and availability. Consequently, it is shortsighted and irresponsible to ignore sustainability. Facility managers, building owners, architects and designers must re-examine past ROI assumptions and make the retrofits and procedural changes necessary to attack the input side of the equation in order to bridge to a more efficient future.

It’s time to look at energy and environmental challenges as opportunities to become more efficient and to address sustainability. Your efforts will reduce your overall environmental footprint, which will benefit your company, employees, building occupants and investors. 
                                                                                                               -George R. Lohnes

George R. Lohnes is vice president at UGL Unicco. He is the leader of the company’s UGL Unicco GreenClean program, which is considered to be the most advanced green cleaning initiative of any facilities services company. Lohnes is also a member of the USGBC LEED-EB Core Committee. UGL Unicco hosts a green services website at
Green Building Resources
Buildin Design & Construction
Common Sense Design, resource page
Environmental Building News
Frank Lloyd Wright
Get into Green, at the National Building Musem
Green Affordable Housing
Green Building Community.Com
Green Sage
International Initiative for sustainable built environment
LEED for Homes, energy certification from the USGBC
List of recycled building products from the Ca.Integratd waste management board
Marin County Green Building Program
Marin Max Reuse
National Renewable Energy Labratory Homepage
Oikos Green Building Source

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