LEEDing the Green Revolution
Shannon Bergstrom, LEED Green Associate and TRUE zero waste system advisor, explains why facility managers are the key leaders of the green revolution.
Now that we have entered what is considered crunch time in the global fight against climate change, the push for sustainability has really picked up speed. It is now a prominent demand from consumers and is becoming enshrined in law in countries around the world. Sustainability is thus a high priority for a growing number of corporations, organizations and institutions across the board, and many are also further driven by the potential financial benefits streamlining their operations may have.
Any of these groups that has a physical location—be it a factory, school, stadium, office or museum—can benefit immensely from greening those facilities, because, as you may know, buildings have a significant environmental impact. In fact, they are responsible for nearly 40 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. While new buildings are now being designed with sustainability in mind, the real challenge is renovating, retrofitting and managing existing structures to meet and even exceed modern green standards.
This is where facility managers are key. As people who understand a building’s operations literally inside and out, facility managers are perfectly positioned to push for and implement comprehensive changes that can ultimately make great gains for the sustainability of an organisation or business.
Championing the Green Revolution
Of course, greening a facility is more than just buying energy-saving lightbulbs and 100% recycled toilet paper. There are a wide variety of aspects to green building design, even for existing structures that cannot be fundamentally altered. Energy efficiency, indoor environment quality and recycling are all familiar focal points, and COVID-19 has brought to the table new sustainability-related challenges like air circulation and physical distancing. Yet the instant impact facility managers can have, and the technologies and design principles they have at hand, put them at the forefront of the green revolution.
Regardless of whether the push for sustainability comes from the owner of a facility or facility managers themselves, managers can brush up and fortify their credentials by becoming certified in green building design and operation. There is a wide variety of certification options, but the most universally accepted is the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).
The LEED for Operations and Maintenance specialty is the most relevant for facility managers, and the Accredited Professional program teaches individuals how to become experts in the latest sustainable practices. This knowledge can be applied to improve an existing building’s efficiency and reduce its environmental impact through enhanced operations and maintenance, in turn earning it one of four levels of LEED certification.
There is no shortage of existing buildings that have gone through large-scale renovations to become LEED certified, but here are a few inspirational examples:
- Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears, became the first LEED-EB certified NFL stadium in 2003 after extensive renovations, which included implementing a recycling system that can handle nearly anything, including light bulbs and sod.
- Also in Chicago, Willis Tower was awarded LEED Platinum certification after the building was retrofitted with highly-efficient lighting, plumbing and HVAC systems.
- San Francisco International Airport’s Terminal 2 became the first LEED Gold-certified airport building in the US after it was given improvements like a new ventilation system and more natural light.
- The Jin Mao Tower in Shanghai, China, was completed in 1999 and then retrofitted with improvements that include a comprehensive recycling system, earning it LEED Gold certification in 2013.
But LEED certification isn’t only for modern buildings. Originally constructed in 1911, the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates Chancery Annex in Washington DC became the first embassy in the world to obtain a LEED Gold rating in 2016 following an extensive renovation. Special energy-efficient windows were designed to conform to the building’s historical design, and the team used regional, recyclable materials—along with reusing masonry and timber from the building itself—whenever possible.
Even Starting Small Can Have a Big Impact
While these examples were achieved through extensive renovation and retrofitting, smaller and more accessible changes can also make a significant positive impact, and are often possible with the restrictive budgets facility managers are sometimes forced to work with. Upgrading HVAC units, boilers and windows, installing motion-sensor lighting and smart meters, and even switching energy providers are all great first steps that can be taken to improve the sustainability of older facilities. Proper recycling is another point that sometimes isn’t given enough consideration, as older systems that were put in place a number of years ago often aren’t audited for efficiency and updated.
One of the major tenets of sustainability is also to utilize what already exists through to the end of its lifetime. This can mean that sometimes the most sustainable action a facility manager can take is none at all, rather than engaging in renovations that aren’t really necessary. When it becomes time to change the carpets or rebuild fixed furniture, facility managers should seek out materials that are verified as sustainable through Green Label Plus and Forest Stewardship Council certification.
Making Today’s Buildings Suitable for Tomorrow
In light of cultural changes, like growing awareness of mental health, and a focus on physical health and hygiene in the wake of COVID-19, facility managers now have a number of other necessary considerations that need to be addressed to ensure the wellbeing of those who use a building.
Features that will become increasingly common over the next few years include quiet areas where people can meditate or rest, and green garden areas on the roof or in the parking lot that can do double duty as a rejuvenating oasis and environmental temperature regulator.
Many offices will also be considering a switch from open plan back to more traditional cubicle-style layouts, which will necessitate extra emphasis on improving indoor air and light quality in order to avoid the stereotypical “soul-sucking” feeling of offices of old.
Overall, no matter what the project, facility managers have the power to carefully choose contractors who themselves are experts in green techniques and technologies. For both repair and maintenance, existing buildings can be prepared for the future by teaming up with local leaders in sustainability. The reality is that the majority of our modern life is spent indoors, and the role of facility managers is essential to ensuring that these spaces are clean, green and healthy for all stakeholders.