Compiled by Facility Executive
From the October 2022 Issue
For the past 15-20 years, sustainability has been a key focus for the built environment. Even with this increased focus, commercial real estate is still responsible for 40% of the world’s carbon emissions.
As buildings occupants and tenants become more aware of the negative impact carbon emissions can have for people and the planet, more organizations have stepped up to do their part for the environment. Companies have publicly committed to Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) goals, which detail a company’s current and future approach to sustainability goals. While this reporting isn’t required in the U.S., more corporations are recognizing the importance of having a plan not only to protect people and the environment, but to ensure their buildings and operations are safe and sustainable for the future.
Large companies and organizations aren’t the only ones setting goals for carbon neutrality.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City schools are aiming to have 100% carbon-neutral operations by 2040. The Salt Lake City School District plans to install LED lighting fixtures, update restroom water systems, and install solar panels to work toward this goal. As impressive as these ambitions are—companies and organizations need to remain consistent and focused on achieving their goals.
Focus On Reliable Energy
Facility Executive polled over 500 facility management professionals to see what their primary sustainability focus is for 2022, and 68% of respondents said conserving energy. This is not surprising; reducing energy saves money.
According to Bryan Bennett, CEO and Founder of Cortex Sustainability Intelligence, “the most effective way to improve sustainability is to reduce energy use—utilities are usually the largest controllable cost for office buildings.”
Since utilities are a controllable cost for commercial buildings, facility managers should identify potential energy waste in buildings as a first step.
“Energy use is often unknowingly wasted in buildings every day, whether it’s a tenant leaving a light on overnight or inefficient operating and HVAC systems,” says Bennett. “Typically, about 55% of energy use in a building is driven by the base-building equipment—meaning operational equipment such as HVAC systems—operated by building engineers through a building management system, or BMS.”
Cortex has found that going after this 55% is the fastest and most cost-effective way to decarbonize these buildings. “Championing initiatives that target energy reduction of base-building equipment is a high-impact approach to reducing energy usage and increasing sustainability at a property management level,” says Bennett. As for the other 45%, this usage is determined by occupants or building tenants. The facility manager in charge of a leased space is responsible for making sure equipment isn’t running overnight.
Reducing energy, either through implementing renewable energy sources or reducing energy usage, is critical for decarbonization, but the industry still has several challenges to overcome to make this approach more widespread.
“Despite growing momentum for the energy transition, several headwinds have emerged that could impede the rate of growth and sidetrack progress on climate targets,” according to Expectations for Renewable Energy Finance in 2022-2025 – Progress and Challenges on the Path To Decarbonization from the American Council on Renewable Energy. “Regulatory and legislative uncertainty presents a significant roadblock, along with continuing supply chain challenges, the impacts the Russian war on Ukraine [has had] on global energy markets, inflation, increases in power purchase agreement (PPA) prices, and lengthened interconnection wait times.”
According to Nikki Mehta, Director, Energy and Sustainability for Honeywell, if a building is still burning natural gas or fuel oil for heat, it will be difficult to achieve carbon neutrality or even measurably reduce greenhouse gas emissions.