Buildings are often blamed as part of the problem when it comes to climate change. But they can also be part of the solution if building owners and managers take an active role in mitigating how buildings affect the climate, according to a panel at the 2019 IFMA’s World Workplace conference and expo.
The USGBC, which created the landmark green certification LEED, took this mission seriously when it moved into its Washington, D.C., headquarters space in 2014. The organization immediately set out to improve the performance of the space it leases in a LEED Platinum-certified JBG Smith building.
Climate Case Study: USGBC Headquarters
USGBC implemented ongoing tracking for energy, water, transportation, indoor environmental quality and human experience. These are the same factors that are tracked by Arc Skoru’s dynamic LEED plaque, allowing USGBC to demonstrate its performance in real-time. Arc is owned by Green Business Certification Inc., the same company that administers LEED.
Using a dynamic measurement system allows you to stay on top of your building’s performance rather than simply earning a building certification and assuming that’s the end of it, explains Melanie Mayo-Rodgers, director of facilities for USGBC and manager of the headquarters buildings for USGBC and Arc.
The organization follows a 6-step process to improve performance with data:
- Measure baseline performance
- Conduct a gap analysis (where you are vs. where you want to be)
- Develop a roadmap to get there
- Install data collection systems (submetering, regular occupant surveys, etc.)
- Establish policies and procedures to improve performance and maintain it at a high level
- Engage with occupants
The organization’s tracking includes energy and water submetering, twice-yearly surveys for transportation and human experience, and IAQ monitors that measure relative humidity, temperature and carbon dioxide.
Making the results visible via the dynamic plaque draws in employees and visitors who become invested in the building’s performance. It also helps USGBC maintain the Platinum certification on its own space, independent of the base building’s certification.
“Once you have the data, you want to showcase it and share it with everyone you can,” explains Mayo-Rodgers. “Our plaque hangs in the lobby to keep me honest. If it drops, I hear about it. But it’s also a comfort to come in, see the score and know we’re doing well and our hard work is paying off. When your staff comes in, they can see how their actions impact how the building is doing. It’s an important way to communicate what you’re doing.”
How USGBC Drove Change With Data
USGBC worked with the building owner, JBG SMITH, to find opportunities for savings.
Data-driven management helped the team discover energy-saving changes, such as these HVAC tweaks:
- Reducing overtime HVAC schedules
- Eliminating HVAC running on the weekends
- Asking JBG Smith not to run HVAC on USGBC’s floors when tenants on other floors had events after normal work hours
- Adjusting the startup and shutdown times for HVAC to match occupancy
USGBC also tracked metrics outside of the five areas measured by Arc’s dynamic plaque. One, waste management, is often tough for facilities professionals because there’s no national standard mandating how to sort bins, create signage or achieve a certain level of diversion, Mayo-Rodgers explains.
“It’s one way at home and another at work. It can vary from building to building, so nobody really knows what to put in each bin. We put examples on the signage as well as a visual so that people can go ‘Oh, that’s where that one goes,’” says Mayo-Rodgers. “We also created catering guidelines and an environmental purchase plan to reduce material and food waste and make sure we’re sourcing sustainably. Not a lot of people were doing composting in 2009, but JBG SMITH was really supportive of it and it’s been a really successful program. It’s amazing how much we’re able to divert of food waste and material.”
Tools to Track Buildings’ Climate Impact
The dynamic plaque has been a useful tool for USGBC, but these resources can also help ensure you’re operating your building sustainably.
Green leases: These can be useful for both building owners and tenants. Spelling out green requirements in the lease means everyone is on the same page when it comes to maintaining the building’s performance and lowering the building’s climate impact.
The building USGBC now occupies was certified under the 2009 version of LEED for Commercial Interiors, then pursued LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations + Maintenance, which it achieved in December 2010.
“LEED serves as one of the checklists to make sure the items you want to include are included in the lease,” says Mayo-Rodgers. “You want to make sure you’re in a LEED building. If you’re not, you want to get that in the lease that the landlord is going to get the building certified.”
Compare the requirements for LEED to your lease and prioritize the things that are important to you, category by category. This might include:
Jurisdictional requirements and carbon reduction initiatives: Washington, D.C., and other jurisdictions in the area have made formal public commitments to reduce carbon emissions that are consistent with the Paris Agreement, which the U.S. withdrew from in June 2017.
This affects facilities management in a few key ways, explains Lesley Morrison, portfolio manager for JBG SMITH.
- Renewable energy purchasing: All purchased electricity must come from renewable sources by 2050. “Most companies and the government are already getting there, which is great,” Morrison notes.
- Requirements for minimum energy efficiency standards by 2026: “The side benefit is that there are incentives for participating in these programs,” Morrison says. A local utility may incentivize LED retrofits, for example.
- Benchmarking: Many jurisdictions, including Washington, D.C., mandate energy reporting. If you have to do it anyway, you can use the benchmarking process to pursue certification with ENERGY STAR or other building certifications. JBG SMITH’s automatic bill payment process automatically reports to ENERGY STAR and ENERGY STAR reports to Arc, allowing the company to benchmark and maintain both its ENERGY STAR and Arc scores just by paying the bills. “The automated process takes it all out of my hands, but when I first started in the industry, I would read those bills and track every dollar in Portfolio Manager,” says Morrison.
A climate-conscious facilities manager can make an important impact regardless of whether company leadership signs on to formally certifying the building. Landlords, tenants and office occupants all have roles to play in the solution, and they can use data analysis to play those roles well.
“FMs are tasked with having sustainable reporting and being part of corporate social responsibility. It falls to us to be part of the solution,” Mayo-Rodgers says. “We need to be mindful of the data we’re collecting and make sure it’s accurate data. That makes a difference. Be mindful of the triple bottom line: If you’re implementing sustainable initiatives that are good for people and the environment, you also need to be mindful that they’re good investments for your company.”