Green Trends: A Time Of Bold Opportunity

By Jillian Ruffino
Published in the October 2006 issue of
Today’s Facility Manager magazine

facility management furniture trends

Teddy Roosevelt said, “To waste and destroy our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them.”

In light of this statement, facility managers have been given an important assignment. The men and women who hold this title are now poised to make a tremendous impact on the world today and in the future. Various circumstances have brought environmental issues to the forefront, and the consequences that buildings have on the planet can no longer be ignored.

Facility managers—like most other people—probably still associate global warming with industrial polluters. But all types of facilities are potential culprits. A new guidebook provides facility managers with valuable tools that can help fight climate change while still operating efficient office buildings. Sound energy management at service sector companies is actually a smart practice for any operation.

The World Resources Institute (WRI) lays out some of the key arguments as to why facility managers need to respond to global warming in its new guidebook, Hot Climate, Cool Commerce. The book presents, at its core, a step-by-step process for measuring and managing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that any company or organization can follow.

Here is a brief summary of the key reduction techniques explained in the Guide.

• Assign resources. Make sure the company’s senior management is supportive of the endeavor; then establish a task force and give them a budget.
• Design the GHG inventory. A GHG inventory is simply a list of the company’s GHG emission sources and their quantities. Before emissions can be measured, companies must understand their organizational infrastructure in order to identify and categorize their emissions according to the common standards set forth by the WRI created GHG Protocol.
• Collect data. What gets measured gets managed, but before anything can be measured, data is needed. Companies must establish data management systems that will allow them to collect information efficiently about their sources of GHG emissions. For example, they’ll need to track how much electricity they use.
• Calculate emissions. Once data has been collected, the company’s GHG emissions can be calculated with a suite of easy to use, Excel-based tools specially designed for service sector companies. Other companies can use a broad range of calculation tools that are also available on the GHG Protocol’s Web site.
• Set a target. Companies that are responding to global warming will want to communicate their leadership to concerned stakeholders. One way to do this is to set a public GHG reduction target. GHG targets can also be a useful planning tool and a focal point around which to rally the company’s employees—all of whom will have a role in helping to keep the company on track.
• Reduce emissions. A GHG inventory will help companies identify the best emission reduction opportunities. While some activities might be straightforward, this is also an opportunity for companies to showcase their innovation. Companies can also think beyond their operations and consider how to streamline the distribution of their products or how to reduce emissions from customer travel to their locations.
• Report results. All kinds of stakeholders, including employees, customers, clients, investors, and NGOs want to know how companies are responding to their concerns about global warming. Company actions can be reported in annual reports, in sustainability reports, and on their Web sites.

Companies of all stripes are discovering they can build value by developing smart responses to global warming. WRI knows this from practical experience. Leading companies like JPMorgan Chase, Starbucks, and International Finance Corporation know it too, and they have used WRI tools to help them achieve their goals. Facility managers of all buildings can benefit.

Putt del Pino is an associate in WRI’s Climate, Energy and Pollution Program. She is also the lead author of Hot Climate, Cool Commerce: A Service Sector Guide to Greenhouse Gas Management. Facility managers can get started by downloading the guidebook at or by e-mailing questions to

Thoughtful decisions in existing structures and conscious planning in new construction may result in less damaging effects on the environment. This is the task of the facility manager—to assist in upholding the biological necessity to leave a clean earth for future generations.

A Nation Wakes Up

Facilities have had an extraordinarily negative effect on the natural world since the onset of the Industrial Revolution. So why has this story become such a hot topic recently? Several factors have begun to converge to bring this problem, over 100 years in development, into the mainstream.

George Maibach, vice president of business development for City of Industry, CA-based Bentley Prince Street, explains, “There is no question that there is a growing awareness of the threat of global warming. This message is being driven by many forms of media.”

Martin Melaver, Savannah, GA-based Melaver, Inc.’s CEO, agrees with this thought. “With the recent release of ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ (a documentary about global warming starring Al Gore) and big cover stories in Vanity Fair and Newsweek, the first waves of action have arrived, and green is now squarely on the map of public awareness.”

The movement is being driven by more than the media frenzy, however. Many feel the catastrophic natural disasters of the past few years have been a direct result of environmental pollution. “There is clearly the influence of events like Hurricane Katrina and the [December 2004] tsunami on public opinion,” says Melaver.

The 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake and resulting tsunami left an estimated 275,000 dead with thousands missing. Fatalities from last year’s hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma are estimated at 2,018 (data for Katrina is incomplete).

On televisions across the U.S., the sight of Americans, deceased or exiled from their homes, precipitated this call to action. With many people convinced that their behaviors, including the excessive consumption of natural resources, have had a direct effect on the welfare of the planet, it is an advantageous time to start looking at facilities in a new light.

Fixing Existing Problems

Many changes can be made to reduce the pollution created by existing buildings. These modifications often seem small in comparison to the enormity of the problem, but every step taken is important if it is carefully planned. Samantha Putt del Pino, an associate in the World Resources Institute’s Climate, Energy and Pollution Program, headquartered in Washington, DC, advises, “A professional energy audit can uncover many energy saving opportunities. Examples may include lighting retrofits, window upgrades, proper temperature control, and procurement of energy efficient office and kitchen equipment. Conducting an annual inventory of a facility’s energy consumption and using the information to assess its contribution to climate change is a good practice and can help in identifying opportunities to reduce a facility’s impact.” (See sidebar from Putt del Pino entitled, “Easy Steps To Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction.”)

The guidelines created by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) can be another place to start. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System® certification programs, which include Existing Buildings (EB), provide a list of standards for environmentally sustainable practices.

The LEED-EB rating system addresses: whole building cleaning and maintenance issues including chemical use; ongoing indoor air quality; energy efficiency; water efficiency; recycling programs and facilities; exterior maintenance programs; and systems upgrades to meet green building energy, water, indoor air quality, and lighting performance standards.

Small, precisely orchestrated adjustments can make a considerable difference and help with conformance to, and certification in, the LEED-EB program. Maibach recommends these actions: “Install low voltage lighting and sensors so they don’t stay on when unnecessary; use natural lighting; install waterless urinals in men’s restrooms; consider renewable energy, such as photovoltaic panels; collect rainwater for toilets; and analyze the HVAC system, and, if necessary, replace with energy efficient units.”

Every positive action in this direction builds toward creating a greener facility. Melavar summarizes, “The first step for a facility manager is to embrace the notion that he or she is evolving into a person with an entirely new way of looking at how a building operates.”

Facility managers must recognize the simple fact that every decision they make in a building has the ability to harm or improve conditions in the environment.

LEED Leading The Way

The USGBC’s guidelines may be considered even more important in new construction. As Steve Goldmacher, director of corporate communications for Philips Lighting, based in Somerset, NJ, says, “In new construction, facility managers would be unwise not to use LEED standards. Adopting LEED building guidelines is a trend that is going to continue to become the new standard eventually.”

Maibach explains: “The LEED system rates building construction in six categories, including sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation credits and the design/build process.” This means every building decision matters, including where it takes place, how it is completed, and product selection.

Purchasing decisions are crucial in environmental design. Installed over 20 years ago, the Antron fibercarpet in this elementary school has reduced its impact because less waste is sent to landfills. PHOTO: INVISTA IMAGES

For example, as Melaver clarifies, “Much greater emphasis needs to be placed on the decision process involved in where one decides to build in the first place. Putting up a building in the middle of a greenfield area that will likely encourage greater sprawl is not the way to go.”

The products used in facilities must be selected carefully. When purchasing, Henning Bloech, manager of environmental initiatives at Invista, headquartered in Kennesaw, GA, recommends the following approach for facility professionals: “Ask questions. Will this product last longer than comparable products? Can it be cleaned with soap and water instead of harsh chemicals? Also, facility managers must ensure that the product to be replaced will be kept out of the landfill and the product going in will be reclaimed at the end of its long, useful life.”

Choosing products that have been evaluated by a third party, such as ENERGY STAR—a program overseen by the U.S. EPA—can also be helpful. Jean-Pierre Simard, director of marketing and corporate sustainable strategy for Victor Innovatex, located in Saint Georges, Quebec, comments, “Another great tool is the leader in sustainable ideals—McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry’s (MBDC) Cradle to Cradle Product Certification Program.”

Energy efficiency is also very important when planning new construction. Daylighting is one way to conserve. “New buildings with extensive daylighting can contour a lighting control system to dim lights automatically or shut them off completely when natural light reaches a preset level,” says Scott Jordan of Palatine, IL’s Square D/Schneider Electric. “If users forget to turn the lights off when they leave, an occupancy sensor should be set to recognize that everyone has gone, and it will automatically shut the lights off.”

Another concept in new construction is to implement ideas that positively impact the environment while decreasing resource consumption. “An example would be to improve air quality through implementing programs that are low in VOCs, such as high performance, environmental air conditioning systems that combine free opening windows with standard air conditioning,” proposes Simard. “This would put air back into the environment that is of equal or better quality than what was first taken.”

In new construction, facility managers must make with the best interest of the environment and building occupants in mind.

The Truth About The Cost Of Environmental Design

Many become nervous when the subject of environmental design is broached, because it is assumed that it is too expensive to be practical. The truth may not be so simple.

Simard addresses prevalent beliefs about the cost of green facilities: “There is often a misconception about the financial impact of this type of building. Many people still believe that building with a sustainable conscience is not an option because of pressures for cost savings at all levels of development.”

What is the truth about the financial impact of environmental design in existing buildings? Goldmacher believes, “Initially, the cost of changing over to LEED compliant products and parts will be higher. Over the long term, the costs will be recouped in energy efficiency savings. It is shortsighted for facility managers to look only at the one time costs.”

In new construction, environmental design does not necessarily need to cost more. Putt del Pino says, “A recent study in the Harvard Business Review shows that green buildings cost no more to construct than standard buildings due to the lower materials and technology costs, greater availability of green building products, and greater real estate in planning and construction.”

In terms of LEED, Melaver says, “The general rule of thumb is that a basic LEED building costs the same as conventional construction, with higher levels running at about a 2% premium that is recovered rapidly through reduced operating expenses.”

And, as Jordan adds, “Some state governments are giving tax incentives for certain levels of LEED certification.” These states include Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, and Pennsylvania.

Melaver also explains, “Use of local materials that highlight natural elements is more economical than obtaining exotic materials.”

A Future In Consonance With Nature

One can now only imagine a world where, as Simard predicts, “Materials will not only have no negative effect on the environment but will create a positive impact on our surroundings.”

Melaver envisions, “Buildings that are able to convert energy with the efficiency of plant life, move with the flexibility of tree limbs, and adapt to the natural world in ways that teach us how to move in consonance with it.”

The past few years have changed views on the environment irrevocably. Echoing Roosevelt’s intrepid attitude, Goldmacher asserts, “This is a time of bold opportunity.”

In existing buildings and new construction, it is time for facility managers to take advantage of the momentum building in the exciting world of environmental design.

This article was based on interviews with Bloech, Goldmacher, Jordan, Maibach, Melaver, Putt del Pino, and Simard.

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