FM Issue: The Green Building Landscape

By Kevin Stover
Published in the April 2009 issue of
Facility Executive

Photo Credit: Photodisc. Image Design: Megan Knight, Art Director, Group C Media, Inc.

While the economic downturn is having a constricting effect on many sectors of business, the green building field remains as one of the few growth industries these days. Why? It’s because sustainable design offers a way to meet two of the most pressing objectives when it comes to building management and construction: energy efficiency and reduced costs.

At issue is the fact that buildings in the United States account for a disproportionate amount of energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, elevated levels of which are thought to be influencing fluctuations in the earth’s climate. In addition to the environmental impacts, energy also represents the most significant portion of a building’s operating costs and holds the largest opportunity for potential savings.

For these reasons, as well as the fact that 75% of the nation’s building stock is expected to be newly constructed or undergo a major renovation in the next 15 to 20 years, improving the performance of existing buildings has become a significant priority—and facility managers (fms) must now add green building fundamentals to their areas of expertise.

Regulations And Incentives

One of the most significant changes in recent years has been the increase in proposed federal, state, and local legislation related to energy efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions, and other aspects of green building. So far, the majority of legislation has focused on the construction of new, publicly funded buildings; however, with lawmakers increasingly looking at ways to improve the performance of existing buildings, laws on these structures will likely follow.

At the same time, there have never been more incentives for the construction of high performance structures. Spurred by public policy, many governments now offer tax credits, expedited permitting, and other incentives for buildings that perform above code or achieve green certification. Likewise, the private sector offers a range of green insurance products and green mortgages available for buildings that achieve certain levels of performance.

Available Support

Once upon a time, green building was largely driven by a few high end architects and their wealthy, eco-conscious clients. Today it is truly a mainstream pursuit, supported by an ever growing combination of government agencies, non-profit organizations, private businesses, and individuals. For fms seeking to maximize the performance of their buildings, it is helpful to be aware of the support offered by the following organizations:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA). As one might expect, the U.S. EPA is the federal government’s primary source of green building information. Working jointly with the U.S. Department of Energy (see below), it also offers the ENERGY STAR® rating system for energy performance, the commercial version of which has been used to assess more than 62,000 buildings.

U.S. Department of Energy (U.S. DOE). The U.S. DOE also manages and maintains the Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS). CBECS provides data on actual building performance by building type, which is the first step in determining how to achieve a building that performs significantly better than average. Widely considered to be the most accurate and reliable source of energy benchmarking information, CBECS data is available through ENERGY STAR and the Green Globes® environmental assessment and rating system (described below).

National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS). Created to serve as an interface between government and the private sector, NIBS offers the Whole Building Design Guide, which encourages an integrated design approach to creating high performance buildings. The free guide features a wide range of support related to design, project management, operations, and maintenance, as well as tools and training opportunities.

Green Building Initiative® (GBI). A non-profit organization, the GBI mandate is to accelerate the adoption of green building practices by offering credible, practical, and affordable tools that appeal to mainstream practitioners. For commercial buildings, GBI owns the U.S. rights to promote and distribute Green Globes.

U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). One of the oldest green building organizations, the non-profit USGBC promotes building sustainability through its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) rating system. Its mission is to “transform the way buildings and communities are designed, built, and operated, enabling an environmentally and socially responsible, healthy, and prosperous environment that improves the quality of life.”

American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). By law, building codes across the country must meet ASHRAE standard 90.1-2004 for energy efficiency. The organization also offers professional certification for high performance building design related to HVAC and refrigeration, as well as training and other resources.

Architecture 2030. Supported by the American Institute of Architects and most of the organizations listed above (among others), this non-profit seeks to address climate change by drastically reducing the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by the building sector. Through the 2030 Challenge, it is asking the building community to achieve carbon neutrality for all new buildings and those that undergo major renovations by 2030.

In addition to organizations dedicated in some way to green building, the movement is also being enthusiastically promoted by companies and individuals that choose to set an example through their own practices. While architects were among the earliest adopters, more owners and fms are seeking to reduce costs through energy and water efficiency and other green features, and building occupants are increasingly voicing their preference for clean, sustainable buildings that offer high levels of indoor air quality (IAQ).

Green Building Rating Systems

Fundamental to the movement, green building rating systems help to facilitate the creation of high performance buildings in three important ways:

  1. They define achievable goals beyond mandatory building codes and existing performance levels.
  2. They provide the means to measure progress against these goals.
  3. They create a market dynamic that rewards those who go beyond mandatory codes.

In addition to systems such as ENERGY STAR, which focus on evaluating and improving one aspect of building performance, fms have access to a growing range of tools that incorporate all of the elements that contribute to sustainability—such as Green Globes and LEED. The Green Globes system includes an assessment protocol, rating system, and guide for integrating environmentally friendly design into commercial buildings. Pictured here is the NewPage Corporation’s headquarters in Miamisburg, OH. (Photo: Courtesy of The Green Building Initiative.)

Because there is general agreement as to what constitutes green building, these systems tend to have more similarities than differences. However, they also have distinct characteristics that allow them to support a wider range of building types, budgets, objectives, and individual preferences

For example, when GBI was established in late 2004, there were no green building rating systems with the specific objective of supporting mainstream design and building professionals. This is at the core of the Green Globes system and is fundamental to encouraging energy efficiency and other green building practices on a broad scale. Green Globes is also unusual in that it is Web-based, user friendly, and affordable, includes design guidance as part of the assessment process, and relies on information from the ENERGY STAR program for both new construction and existing buildings.

LEED, on the other hand, has the stated objective of targeting the top 25% of the market. As one of the first entrants to the field, it enjoys a high level of brand awareness and has a variety of modules for different building types. However, its structure and process are prescriptive and require support from a LEED Accredited Professional through all stages of the process.

It is worth noting that both systems require information to be reviewed by an independent third party prior to certification, though Green Globes also mandates an on-site visit. Both systems have been recognized by numerous states in green building regulation, legislation, or executive order.

Ongoing Assessments

Considering that the U.S. is home to more than 100 million buildings, the need to improve the performance of existing structures is a necessary prerequisite for widespread energy efficiency. As a result, there has been an increasing demand for accountability—through mechanisms such as legislation mandating energy and greenhouse gas reductions—and property owners and fms are being called upon to improve building performance with verifiable results. Unfortunately, the reality is that many structures—even those designed to be sustainable—fail to perform as expected.

There are logical reasons for this, such as the fact that design team predictions may have been based on ideal assumptions, while actual performance was diminished by unforeseen variables such as moving budget targets, value engineering, or insufficient commissioning. But, to fms who receive higher than expected utility bills or fail to achieve their energy reduction targets, the reasons matter less than the results.

One missing element, until last year when GBI introduced the Green Globes module for Continual Improvement of Existing Buildings (Green Globes-CIEB), was another affordable way to measure and monitor performance on an ongoing basis while pursuing continuous improvement.

Green Globes-CIEB allows users to create a baseline of their building’s performance, evaluate interventions, plan improvements, and monitor success—all within a holistic framework that also addresses physical and human elements such as material use and indoor environment.

As with Green Globes for New Construction, energy is the most significant area of assessment within Green Globes-CIEB. A combined focus on energy use, building features, and management helps to pinpoint where performance is lacking and what corrective action is required. The system uses the ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager to determine a consumption target for each building type and, where appropriate, buildings must meet a minimum performance target of 75% based on the comparable ENERGY STAR building.

Benefits Of A Job Well Done

High performance buildings are energy efficient, minimize pollution, and reduce overall environmental impact. They require less maintenance, reduce short- and long-term operating costs, promote health among occupants, and improve worker satisfaction. One study done by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that improving IAQ could save U.S. businesses up to $58 billion in lost sick time each year, with another $200 billion earned in increased worker performance. Green buildings also have perceived value in the market, with potential employees as well as various levels of government and the community at large.

In other words, energy efficiency and reduced operating costs may be compelling reasons to embrace sustainability, but there are many others—and, for better or worse, fms are entering an era of reduced choice and greater accountability related to performance objectives. Benchmarking and analysis will soon be the norm, along with environmental policies (for the rare few that don’t already have them in place) and mechanisms for promoting green design to the organization’s stakeholders.

In this new building environment, the rewards for a job well done will be great.

Stover is a commercial programs consultant with the Green Building Initiative. He works with the Green Globes rating system and offers support for design, construction, and operation of commercial buildings. Prior to working for the GBI, Stover spent over 25 years as an environmental and facility engineer.