Professional Development: Not Only Money Is Green

By Tony Rankin
Published in the May 2011 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

The sustainable design trend is moving across the country and around the world. Although the WGBC (World Green Building Council) currently has only 10 countries under its wing, the organization is acting as the catalyst for action in many countries by providing information and moral support on initiatives to help transform countries.

Many organizations and professionals are certifying their projects with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), a standard set by the USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council). Some of this activity may be based on statistics that reveal commercial buildings contribute to:

  • 12% of all freshwater use;
  • 30% of all raw materials;
  • 30% of greenhouse emissions;
  • 45% to 60% of all waste outputs;
  • 31% of mercury and solid wastes; and
  • 70% of all electrical consumption.

Most building professionals agree: it is cost-effective to implement a green building project in the planning phase of a new construction in order to alleviate higher cost to retrofit later. However, facility managers (fms) in existing buildings can initiate green projects that reap budgetary benefits as well.

The costs associated with a green project are defined as “hard” or “soft.” Construction costs represent hard financial aspects of the project, while design, analysis, engineering, and energy modeling expenses are considered soft.

But with the addition of efficient HVAC systems and other initiatives, fms can realize very real significant energy savings and occupant well-being. These savings, broken down into key areas, will further justify the value in maintaining a green building environment.

Environmental awareness has prompted fms to discover creative ways to conserve energy and the environment. The challenge is to make an energy conserving building affordable and practical in the real world scenario.

On one hand, owners are not always willing to pay more for high performing buildings; however, there is an opportunity for realistic savings in utility costs.

Sustainable design means long-term use, and O&M (operations and maintenance) cost savings could be substantial over time with added environmental comfort. Green approaches like geothermal heating systems, smart lighting controls (micro-light systems), occupancy sensors, and underfloor air ventilation systems often offer attractive ROI.

One quick cost cutting measure is relamping. Lighting accounts for 25% of all electricity consumed in the U.S., and relamping can help reduce kilowatt usage. LEDs (light emitting diodes) are initially more expensive, but they last longer and render more light using less power. Or simply replacing T8 lamps with energy efficient T5 lamps can garner savings.

Additional benefits come from decreased energy usage from lighting. Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) are energy efficient and give off warm light. They use 65% less energy, burn 10,000 hours, and last 10 times longer than their incandescent counterparts. Only 10% of the energy that incandescent bulbs consume actually generates illumination while the rest is lost in the form of heat.

Other energy conservation approaches include photovoltaic modules; designs that render 60% to 75% daylighting; and efficient HVAC systems (that also improve air quality and do not use chlorofluorocarbon, hydro-chlorofluorocarbon, or halon-based refrigerants that deplete the ozone). Low emission glazing can save energy by minimizing thermal heat gain and glare, further solidifying the building envelope’s insulation.

John Van Valkenberg and Tom Morlock, engineers with Children’s Memorial Research Center in Chicago, advocate the use of VFDs (variable frequency drives) for ventilation systems that allow the volume of air moved to match the system demand. VFDs control electrical power, reduce wear and tear on the motors, and cut energy use.

Gray water systems (waste water from sinks and showers) are installed in some buildings to allow the water to be captured, treated, and reused. In some cases, this process has saved 100,000 gallons per year in water costs.

The Council House Two project in Melbourne, Australia, has a sophisticated water system that diverts sewage flows under the streets, treats them, and reuses them for the building’s toilet water. This process significantly reduces water cost and is a creative solution for major drought conditions.

The Wal-Mart Supercenter in Aurora, CO, has two 40′ bioswales in the parking lot to help capture and cleanse rain water runoff (from automotive pollution) before it enters sewer drains. Some bioswales use vegetation, compost, or riprap to remove silt and pollution.

Green roofs contribute to water conservation and cost savings as well. Roofs that are partially or completely covered with vegetation can absorb rainwater for reuse as non-potable water. They also provide insulation and create a habitat for wildlife.

Having a green building incorporates projects from conserving energy and water to using low VOC (volatile organic compound) materials which can greatly improve indoor air quality (IAQ). In terms of health and safety, it is important to use low VOC content paints, coatings, adhesives, and sealants.

Other IAQ sensitive product options include strawboard made from wheat (rather than formaldehyde laced particle board) and linoleum flooring made from jute and linseed oil (rather than standard vinyl which is packed with toxins). The goal of these kinds of products is to create an environmentally and economically sustainable facility that can also strengthen recycling efforts and curtail waste disposal costs.

Recycling paper not only saves trees, but it also reduces waste in landfills. The fewer greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted into the earth’s atmosphere, the better chance of slowing global warming.

Many items can be recycled, collected, and turned over to re-manufacturing companies to convert raw materials into new. Fms should try to practice the following purchasing philosophy: consume less, buy things that last, recycle, don’t waste paper, reuse whatever possible, and compost waste.

Consider the following data from Children’s Memorial Research Center, which is in the process of building a new, 23 story facility (the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, scheduled to open in 2012). The team at Lurie Children’s is applying best practices in the industry as outlined by the USGBC and the Green Guide for Healthcare to create a LEED® Certified facility that is appropriate, manageable, and meaningful.

The plans include a 13,039 square foot roof garden; reducing water pollution through storm water management to treat 90% of all storm water runoff; integrating a light colored exterior to minimize the impact of heat on the surrounding area; reducing water usage by 20% with highly efficient plumbing fixtures; promoting healthy IAQ by using 100% low emission adhesives, sealants, paints, coating, and carpets; and reducing energy consumption through a specially designed ventilation system.

Studies have shown that mixed use environments render less harm on the environment and diminish dependence on the use of automobiles. These sites support walking and cycling rather than driving among patrons. Consequently, many office, retail, and industrial developments of this kind are in the works.

It is believed that most organizations will, to some level, participate in the green building revolution in the future. Communicating with local governments to encourage a focus on green alternatives in the community is another way for fms to be heard.

Commercial buildings constitute 25% of all LEED registered projects and are at the forefront of mainstream conscientiousness. It is important that productivity, effectiveness, and efficiency be in proportion to the level of satisfaction experienced by those who work in the environment. Green building initiatives can increase productivity, reduce absenteeism, and provide a palliative environment of comfort with improved quality of life.

Tony Rankin
Tony Rankin

Rankin is administrator of facility services for Children’s Memorial Research Center, Chicago, IL.