Professional Development: Embrace Sustainability For The Bottom Line

By Lee Kaufman
From the October 2009 issue of Facility Executive magazine

As sustainability mandates begin to drive major renovations and upgrades to existing buildings, facility professionals are faced with the need to develop new approaches to meet these demands successfully. Once, they mainly concentrated on managing projects, schedules, maintenance and budgets, and supervising staff, but now new challenges have been added to the mix, including justifying how the investments made to promote sustainability affect the bottom line. [For more on this concept, see “Life Cycle Cost Analysis: An Asset Management Strategy” online.]

According to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), a property’s value increases by $12.50/square foot for every $1.00/square foot saved in operating expenses as a result of green and sustainable measures being implemented. While some statistics highlight the benefits of sustainability programs, the decisions faced by those responsible for these programs can be daunting. In order to meet these needs, facility managers (fms) must:

  • Decide on the most sustainable choices;
  • Verify the costs associated with green alternatives;
  • Determine the payback or return on investment (ROI) for green choices;
  • Meet potential requirements to reduce carbon footprint; and
  • Provide recommendations that make sense and are effective.

The often complex answers to these questions can arm facility professionals with the ability to gather and track new information and make good, data based decisions which directly impact sustainability across the portfolios they manage. Examples of the resulting decisions include:

  • Which equipment will be replaced (and when)?
  • What investments will be made?
  • What payback on those investments is required?
  • What will be metered and analyzed (utilities, etc.) in order to gather critical benchmark data?

By focusing on the tasks undertaken on a daily basis (like keeping track of maintenance, operations, and systems life cycle management), fms may have many opportunities for making incremental advances in sustainability. In fact, most fms can develop a practical sustainability program that is integrated into an overall facilities capital plan.

Rather than embracing a broad range of sustainability initiatives, which can be overwhelming, fms should focus on key areas (such as energy and water) where efforts are more likely to produce immediate results. Cost savings from these projects can provide both short- and medium-term payback which can go towards funding other projects with longer payback periods.

Some organizations are choosing to focus solely on energy, which can be a good way to see ROI. By identifying energy baselines and then undertaking key energy retrofits, such as aged lighting and equipment replacements, it is not unusual for fms to see the results in the form of reduced utility bills, more efficient equipment, and less exposure due to volatility in the price of utilities. The range of payback in years for implementing such energy conservation measures can be anywhere from two years to upwards of 50 years.

Using either the organization’s internal criteria or a third party evaluation system (such as LEED-EB® O&M or Green Globes), professionals can evaluate each building and then analyze various options. To gain another advantage in building the bottom line, fms should consider the portfolio as a whole. By gathering key data (condition, energy conservation measures, potential for renovation/change of use, water reduction, etc.), it is possible to rank building assets against sustainability goals. Bundling projects that occur across many buildings allows the facility professional to enjoy additional savings through volume purchasing; it can also minimize the use of labor and supervisory resources by deploying them concurrently.

Another way for fms to rank assets is by target. Many organizations have specific goals and time frames for achievement (reducing carbon footprint, for instance). By ranking individual buildings in a portfolio by the potential for carbon reduction, fms can direct capital expenditures to reduce energy use, save money, and meet goals.

The facilities group at Salem State College in Massachusetts has integrated sustainability into its ongoing capital planning by incorporating concurrent green building and facility condition assessments. Assessors gathered critical condition, performance, and sustainability information across all four of the college’s campuses. By combining sustainability practices within their normal maintenance and operations and ranking their buildings by goal, facility professionals at Salem State were able to prioritize their capital spending plan for each asset while still targeting the projects, deferred maintenance, and upgrade opportunities across the entire portfolio. The end result will assist them in reaching their primary goal: to meet their President’s commitment to reducing the college’s carbon footprint.

At Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, the facilities team gathered the critical data required to meet the Federal Government’s Executive Order 13423 (a mandate which reports on the sustainability of building portfolios). In addition, the team created water and energy baselines and used alternative green renewal choices to create integrated capital budgets that demonstrated the organization’s commitment to becoming more sustainable while maintaining the portfolio on a daily basis.

At the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL’s) Science and Technology Facility in Golden, CO, the facilities team has made enough energy improvements to realize significant savings. Most of these measures have a fairly rapid payback, ranging from 2.2 years to 10.1 years. For example, a $10,000 investment in daylight controls resulted in a $4,111 savings per year; the payback will be realized in 2.4 years. With a planned site life of at least two decades, management for NREL is confident the infrastructure investment will more than pay for itself.

As facility professionals gain new insight into their portfolios and the green opportunities that are available, more organizations will successfully reach out to embrace sustainability. By focusing on those actions which clearly justify the investment, the bottom line is positively impacted and the outcome is win-win—ultimately improving the long-term viability of the entire facility portfolio.


Kaufman isvice president of professional services at Boston, MA-based VFA.


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