n recent years, the role of facilities manager has expanded to address the complex issues of greening operations, holding the line on utility costs and implementing sustainability-focused policies and practices. As managers take on these new responsibilities, they encounter both substantial challenges and tremendous opportunities.
Overseeing the safe, secure and environmentally sound operation and maintenance of building assets in a manner that is both sustainable and cost-effective may at first seem contradictory. But what has historically been omitted from this equation is that over the lifespan of a typical building — 30 to 100 years — operating costs and the value of building occupant productivity drastically exceed initial construction and subsequent renovation costs. In effect, greening your portfolio can be a highly effective means of adding value to the bottom line — well worth the effort, planning and attention it requires.
Setting the Priorities
Some of the most critical operational issues currently facing facilities managers involve indoor environmental quality (which affects both worker productivity and health care costs) and reducing demand for water and energy, both for reasons of cost containment and carbon emissions reduction.
Many experts confirm that the U.S. building stock is responsible for almost half of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, U.S. businesses and households consume four billion gallons of water daily, while EPA projections anticipate that by 2013, water shortages will become prevalent across much of the country. Efficient water use can reduce the need for costly water supply infrastructure investments and constructing new wastewater treatment facilities — both of which require significant tax dollars to complete.
It is also noteworthy that Americans today spend about 90 percent of our time indoors, which makes indoor environmental quality an important contributor to our productivity, health and well-being. Clearly, constructing, renovating and maintaining our national building stock for optimal performance and indoor environmental quality is critical to the success today's facility manager.
Time Your Interventions
Recent research by Architecture 2030 identifies five key times in the lifespan of a facility that provide optimal opportunity for a significant building performance transformation. These times occur during a building's design when its schematics, materials and systems are first selected; during existing building purchases; during leasing and tenant improvements; during building renovation cycles; and during rebuilding following a natural disaster.
To maximize productivity and performance, building owners and facilities teams are well-advised to take full advantage of these opportunities to make major performance upgrades. Designing and renovating buildings to use a fraction of the energy and water typically consumed can be accomplished with little or no added cost through judicious site and materials selection; appropriate building form and orientation; glass properties and location; and natural heating, cooling, ventilation and day-lighting strategies.
Identifying Today's Opportunities
But even if you are not facing a transformational opportunity, there is still much a facilities manager can do to show building performance improvements and progress toward sustainability goals. Here are some low-hanging fruit to help you get going:
Southface is a nonprofit organization that for more than 30 years has promoted energy-, water- and resource-efficient workplaces, homes and communities throughout the Southeast. Southface manages both regional and national sustainability programs, and its green building services and training classes reach more than 40,000 design and construction professionals, architects, developers and building owners annually. To learn more, visit the Southface Web site at www.southface.org.