Making, measuring and managing green buildings

By Lauren Davis
Tuesday, 31 July, 2012

Kevin Kampschroer is the Director of the US Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings - a department that retrofits old federal buildings to reduce energy usage and improve performance. He was thus an apt keynote speaker on the second day of Total Facilities Live.

The Total Facilities Live event, held from 19-20 July at Sydney Convention & Exhibition Centre, was an engaging conference and exhibition about the built environment. Kampschroer opened the second day of the conference, and he spoke about how measurement of energy usage needs to consider the building itself. He presented several examples of projects in which old federal buildings have been altered to achieve greener performance - one of his success stories was the historic Wayne Aspinall Federal Building (built 1915-1918), which is about to achieve net zero carbon emissions. The key to this has been to think in an integrated way, less about design and more about performance. For example, the US General Services Administration Building, built in 1917 and located in (the very hot) Washington DC, contained lots of air conditioners. Kampschroer noted that buildings from 1917 were not designed to have air conditioners, so the architects were told to design operable windows which could be opened and closed depending on the temperature. This led to 300% better energy performance.

Retrofitting existing facilities

At the same time though, buildings should also be changed if the practices inside them have. Kampschroer said that most offices are designed around routine, repetitive tasks - but computers have changed this, automating most tasks and providing more room for collaboration in others. As such, buildings are now 50% empty, so there should be systems to cater for this. However, he emphasised the importance of keeping the tenants in mind when altering buildings - they don’t get a manual for the building, so alterations have to be something they can deal with. When his department inspects buildings, clues about tenant behaviour are sought. “You can’t get to do a deep retrofit in a building if you ignore the tenant behaviour issues,” he said. One example of how to satisfy both energy and tenant needs is with occupancy sensors which turn off the lights when people exit a room, but don’t turn them back on when people enter - that’s up to the tenant, if they need light at all.

Many of Kampschroer’s points were followed up on by speakers in the ‘Energy Efficiency and Sustainability’ stream of the conference. In his presentation on office building retrofits, Bruce Precious of GPT spoke about how his own company aimed to transform its own building (the MLC Centre, built in the 1970s) at neutral cost. He said the GPT office was not designed for its current needs; space was taken up by large, rarely used workstations, as well as by bulky filing cabinets and piles of paper. The redesign squeezed the office down to three floors in total by introducing a desk flexibility system and removing all filing cabinets - thus paper usage was reduced by 60-70% (because there was nowhere to store it) and energy consumption went down by 50%. The workplace is now certified carbon neutral, and due to the flexible working arrangements, there has also been an increase in collaboration among the team.

Monitoring data

For those organisations that have only just started thinking about carbon management strategies, Robin Archibald of Beyond Green, UGL Services provided a list of steps to take. These include:

  1. Measure your carbon footprint. This can be done using the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. Start by measuring Scopes 1 and 2, and add 3 when you’ve minimised their usage.
  2. Set objectives. These may follow government or national targets, and should have a 3- to 5-year timeframe. There should also be set metrics to reach.
  3. Avoid carbon usage through simple strategies such as turning off lights.
  4. Reduce carbon usage by improving efficiency.
  5. Switch to less carbon-intensive resources.
  6. Sequester, using carbon capture technology (note: still in its early stages).
  7. Assess what remains in order to reach a carbon neutral position.
  8. Offset your remaining carbon. Consult Carbon Offset Guide Australia for assistance.
  9. Review what worked and what didn’t. Make this an annual process.

For Bob Holesko of HEI Hotels & Resorts, carbon management is very much an ongoing process. Holesko’s company owns and operates over 40 luxury hotels, buying those that need renovation and having capital to put into them to make them more efficient. His approach involves data monitoring on a daily, monthly, quarterly and yearly basis, along with an incentive program for the four key ‘energy managers’ - the chief engineers, executive housekeeper, executive chef and banquet manager. Every day the meters should be read, and every month, costs should be down. Every quarter an incentive winner is selected to win a flat screen TV, and every year, the next challenge is set up. From 2006-2011, energy usage in Holesko’s hotels has been reduced from 20% (at the lowest) to 36%. Over the period of 2009-2011, his incentive program has given out 40 flat screen TVs at the cost of $45,000; but the energy saving has totalled $25,000,000.

Data monitoring is also favoured by Craig Rousac of Investa. Rousac said building managers need to be provided with feedback which links their actions to their effects; energy feedback systems are thus useful. Rousac recommends ‘Pulse’, a tool which estimates each day’s energy usage based on predicted variables (eg, if it’s a hot day, it takes this into account) and compares this with actual energy usage. He says people will repeat their actions if their usage is under that predicted, and change them if it’s over.

Presenting your company or your products as environmentally friendly means little if you don’t have certification to back it up, as Dr Neil Kirkpatrick of ERM explained. He said there are three standards for product labels which are used to verify claims: certified eco-labels, self-declaration and environmental product declarations (EPDs). He says it is the third category which is the most trustworthy, as these declarations take a life cycle assessment (LCA) of products, considering the entire input and output of energy over a product’s life cycle. EPDs are also standardised and use ISOs, meaning they can be used to compare products - the lower the numbers on the EPD, the better for the environment. Dr Kirkpatrick stressed that procurement managers should be asking for this sort of validation and that environmental claims should not be taken at face value.

Communication with tenants

Managing a green building can only work if you have proper communication with tenants, which is where Emlyn Keane stepped in. Keane spoke about his role in the Better Buildings Partnership - a collaboration between 14 of Sydney’s property owners and the City of Sydney which aims to deliver the Sustainable Sydney 2030 goals. As Chair of the Tenants Group, Keane looked into best practice leasing. He noted that standard leases tend to be inflexible and non-negotiable; in some cases, the thermostat was not allowed to reach a certain temperature. But Keane gave an example of a situation where compromise won the day: his colleagues in Japan have increased the temperature in their buildings but relaxed the dress code, thus ensuring that people remain comfortable. Once again, the tenants must be taken into consideration, as according to Keane, the method of approaching best practice involves facilitation, negotiation and education.

It all comes back to what Kampschroer said: you shouldn’t try to change people. You can only change the system, and then the people will work with the system. The operation of a building, he said, can be improved at no capital cost, simply by getting the tenants to operate it in the best possible way.

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