FM Issue: Resourceful Reduction

By Anne Cosgrove
Published in the September 2005 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

With fuel prices hitting record highs this past summer, facility managers are not the only people concerned with getting the most from their dollars. Along with economic concerns, this situation brings to the forefront a closely related issue—conservation. Dependence on natural resources is a fact of life, but with the move for building green in full swing practical approaches to reducing consumption are more readily available than ever before.

Resource conservation is a broad concept, which is a good thing, since it offers facility managers numerous ways to reduce the energy and materials consumed by their buildings. These efforts can run the gamut from building utilities—such as energy, oil, gas, and water—to waste items that can be recycled for a second go-round in the life cycle.

A fundamental way to conserve resources is to reduce the amount used in the first place. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) mantra of “reduce, reuse, recycle,” is a reminder that an efficient, streamlined approach to consumption will help to lessen the impact on the earth’s resources.

Energized Efforts

The demands of lighting, heating, cooling, and process systems in a facility are part of what makes buildings such large consumers of energy. According to U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), in 2000 commercial buildings accounted for 17% of the energy consumption in the U.S.

Lighting is one necessity that can demand vast amounts of energy. Choosing energy efficient lighting products, using occupancy sensors to minimize demand, and installing natural daylighting systems are ways to illuminate a space at a lower cost to the energy supply. (As is the case with many conservation measures, these strategies also result in lower costs to the organization’s bottom line.)

Vaughn Aiken, facility manager at Trendway in Holland, MI, has seen both energy and economic savings as a result of the daylighting initiative adopted by the company. “Since 1990, every addition [to the original building] has incorporated natural daylight,” he explains. “You can really tell the difference from space to space—from the older spaces without it to the newer spaces with it. We have also seen savings on energy bills.”

Trendway controls its consumption with an energy management system installed in about half of the 500,000 square foot facility. The building elements controlled by the system include the lighting and HVAC systems.

In addition to daylighting, Aiken attributes the presence of this management system to the energy savings realized at Trendway. “[It] certainly helps us to budget better, because we have the historical information from the system,” he says. “You can really fine tune the use of power.”

Some areas of the facility are not hooked into the system, and motion sensors are used to save energy in those areas. “All the bathrooms, except maybe one, have the sensors,” says Aiken. Sensors are also in areas without frequent traffic. “You don’t want lights going on and off a lot. It costs more that way and uses more energy. We’ve taken into account where we put the motion sensors. If an area has frequent traffic, we won’t put one there. We’ll have a light switch instead.”

The DOE estimates that HVAC systems account for about one-third of the energy used in commercial buildings throughout the nation. Reducing this figure can be realized in a number of ways, including installing HVAC equipment designed to be energy efficient.

Evaluating HVAC systems before purchase and throughout their operating lives is key to ensuring efficient operation. The first step is specifying equipment that is as energy efficient as possible while meeting varying demand levels. Heating and cooling demands also depend to a degree on other building elements, including the type of lighting used, how much natural daylight is brought in, how the space is organized, facility operating hours, and outdoor climate.

To keep demand to a minimum, it is also prudent to assess the integrity of the building envelope and verify that energy is not being wasted by an HVAC system struggling against outdoor temperatures.

Renewable Energy Sources

Of course, the best way to reduce impact on natural resources is to eliminate the demand on those resources in the first place. While that may have sounded impossible to the mainstream several decades ago, the concept of creating energy “off the grid” is increasingly common.

Resource-conscious people are powering buildings with renewable sources, including the sun, the wind, biomass, and geothermal (using the heat of the earth for building applications, such as heating). This power is also referred to as clean energy, since pollution emissions are drastically reduced or eliminated.

Facilities can generate energy on-site if the infrastructure requirement for a specific energy source allows for it. This is the case with photovoltaic solar panels. By installing the panels on the roof or other flat surface such as a parking deck, a facility manager can turn the building into its own power generator. Since 2002, the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, CA has operated a 1.18 megawatt photovoltaic system on its roof. The facility has reported that the use of solar power reduces its consumption of utility generated electricity by 30%.

For other types of energy, such as wind energy, it is often more feasible to purchase the power from a utility provider. In this case, however, one must be sure that renewable energy options are available in the region. By contacting their utility companies, facility managers can often find out quickly if this is an option.

Liquidate Assets

With under 3% of the water in the world suitable for drinking, it is more important than ever to reduce the share that buildings draw from the supply. Strategies of reduction and reuse are effective in this arena.

In order to reduce water consumption by occupants, facility managers can specify low flow showerheads, toilets, and urinals, as well as faucet aerators. The presence of these fixtures results in substantial water savings. Most low flush toilets, for instance, use 1.6 gallons of water per flush. Taking it a step further, waterless urinals, which use specially designed cartridges to absorb waste and odor, are another option. An added benefit of all of these items is the reduced volume of wastewater produced, which lessens the demand on treatment plants.

The reuse of water is a strategy that offers facility managers an option that can be applied in a number of ways. For instance, water from sinks, tubs, and washers—known as gray water—can be gathered for reuse applications. These can include watering plants, cleaning the building, or perhaps washing a company fleet of cars.

In 2003, Santa Clara University (SCU) in Santa Clara, CA began reusing water for its irrigation needs. With the goal of easing demand on the public supply, the South Bay Water Recycling Authority contacted staff at SCU about participating in water recycling. This gray water travels to the city’s wastewater plant, is decontaminated and screened, and then it is returned to the SCU campus and used for its irrigation needs.

“Currently, we use the recycled water for about 75% of the campus,” says Chris Young, team leader for landscape and waste and recycling management at SCU.

The effort has yielded considerable savings. From April 2003 through October 2004, the university used more than 570 million gallons of recycled water, resulting in a 30% decrease in the utility bill for that period. [For more information on gray water, see “Sustainable By Design.”]

As with renewable energy sources, reducing the demand on the grid is one of the most effective ways to lower fresh water consumption. Facility managers can achieve this by collecting rainwater on site to use for building needs. These systems consist of installing piping on the roof, which catches the rain and funnels it to a tank or other vessel down below. At intervals within the system, there are filters that remove debris and can also clean the water to drinking quality, if desired.

While irrigation is one of the more common uses for collected rainwater, the applications can be as varied as individual facilities. Hospitality and health care buildings, for instance, may use rainwater to wash laundry.

The amount of water consumed by facilities with large scale laundry operations is what led David Crawford to start his company, Rainwater Management Solutions located in Salem, VA. “I was involved with large industrial health care laundry facilities,” he recalls. “These facilities use a tremendous amount of water, gas, and energy. Some of them process as much as 50 million pounds of laundry a year.”

So how much water can be collected through rainwater harvesting? “A one thousand square foot roof surface will yield 600 gallons per every one inch of rain,” Crawford says. “A small percentage may be lost to evaporation.”

Materialism At Its Best

With much of the solid waste in the U.S. attributed to buildings, there are many areas where facility managers can scale back the amount of waste material that enters landfills. To work toward this goal, there are two practices a facility manager can implement—purchasing products designed to have the least impact on the environment and overseeing effective recycling programs.

Products that feature environmentally friendly materials and are made in such a way that it is easier for the end user to recycle them are options for the resource conscious facility manager.

Less is more can apply in this arena as Aiken found when outfitting ceiling spaces at the Trendway facility. “In the newer buildings, there are no ceiling tiles,” he explains. “We’ve used exposed, painted construction instead.” This has required less materials to be installed, but also has increased the light in those spaces.

When an item gets to the end of its useful life for the facility, an effective recycling program is key to keeping it out of the landfill. (With certain wastes considered hazardous by the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, this is not an option but a requirement.) Fortunately, for those who wish to pursue this goal for unregulated items, the avenues toward recycling choices have widened.

While virtually all facilities have access to services for recycling glass, plastic, cardboard, and other common items, it may be more difficult for the facility manager to locate a recycler for less universal items. Some materials may require more legwork than others.

James Dowling, environmental compliance administrator for Trendway, faced just such a challenge a few years back when looking to keep papered gypsum waste out of a landfill. “There weren’t too many opportunities to recycle gypsum waste,” he recalls. “I did find a facility in northern Indiana that would take [it]. They segregate the parts and then it’s used on crop fields, because it helps make clay in soils and is impervious to water. It acts like a lime to [nourish] the soil.”

Construction projects represent another opportunity to conserve resources. The EPA estimates nearly 40% of raw materials consumed in the nation are used in construction. (This figure includes roadway, bridge, and dam projects as well.) It is estimated that more than 135 million tons of debris from construction sites are brought to landfills every year, making it the single largest source in the waste stream. Most of these materials, including wood, metal, concrete, gypsum, asphalt, brick, and shingles, are recyclable.

In choosing to recycle construction waste, there are a few issues to consider. First, as with all recycling, the purer the waste stream the better. In order to ensure to maximize materials reclamation, it is better for debris types to be separated on site. The other option is to co-mingle the waste types and leave it to the processor to separate them.

Either option has its own logistical and cost issues. For instance, if waste types are separated on site, recycler costs will usually be lower. However, since on site workers must separate the waste, they will need to be properly trained.

To maximize the recycling rate in a construction project, The Institution Recycling Network (IRN), a cooperative recycling organization based in Concord, NH, advises that the plan be introduced to all parties involved before the project begins. In a recently published guide prepared by IRN on recycling construction waste in the northeastern U.S., it is noted that early planning helped project managers of a school construction and renovation project in Douglas, MA, to recycle 444 tons of building materials. Since recycling is less costly than disposal fees in many regions, these efforts saved $31,000 for the 143,800 square foot project.

There are many ways to reduce the consumption of resources in buildings. It may be as easy as changing existing light bulbs to more efficient models. Or it may require a detailed plan distributed to numerous people and reviewed on a regular basis. By implementing any number of conservation measures in their buildings, facility managers can often help both the environment and their bottom lines at the same time.

Information for this article was provided by interviews with Aiken, Crawford, Dowling, and Young. More information on conservation strategies and opportunities can be found at,,, and