Green Building

Sustainability – one word, many meanings. For some, it refers to whether a business’ Styrofoam coffee cup or coffee pod is recyclable or to a data center’s energy use for computing power and cooling. For others, it refers to material use within the supply chain or to a cumulative assessment of all measures across a corporation’s operations – with full disclosure to shareholders and the public markets. 

Within the built environment, sustainability also has many meanings, but is now a mainstream priority, commanding higher prices from buyers and tenants due to the long-term benefits. Beyond building code compliance, owners and tenants alike in all types of buildings – retail, institutional, government, sporting, educational and industrial – are clamoring for sustainable buildings. The reasons for this include wanting to minimize ongoing energy and maintenance costs, improve the health of the occupants, and/or to reduce environmental impact as part of a corporate social responsibility plan.

With the widespread appreciation of the tangible dividends, sustainability has migrated from being an optional criterion for environmentally conscious clients to a standard requirement. And the building and technology industries have responded at every level. Manufacturers are designing their products with sustainability as a key design constraint. For example: 

    • Roofing products are now designed to integrate with solar installations, as well as offering coatings that minimize heat absorption;
    • Industrial flooring manufacturers offer enhanced surface reflectance options, which help with the illumination of the environment;
    • Intelligent LED lighting systems reduce lighting load within commercial and industrial facilities, but also report on key lighting and energy metrics and allow facility managers to continuously fine-tune system settings based on actual data rather than guesswork. 
Sustainability Drivers

Although clients, buyers and tenants are pushing builders, property owners and manufacturers to address sustainability because it is the right thing to do for their businesses, state energy codes and utility programs also have a strong impact on sustainable building trends. 

California’s Title 24 legislation, which was developed in response to the energy crisis of the 1970’s, is one of the most aggressive sets of regulations around energy efficiency in the built environment – whether residential, commercial or industrial. Covering all the categories of systems and material, it is a key strategy for meeting the state’s energy needs without increasing production capacity, and it applies to new construction and renovations, alike. The legislation spurred the creation of the California Energy Commission (CEC), whose mission is threefold: forecast future energy needs, support efficiency through appliance standards and support renewable energy technologies. Since its inception, the program’s efficiency requirements have reduced more than 250 million metric tons of greenhouse gas – an extraordinary milestone that’s been reached by reducing the energy consumed by the state’s buildings, particularly in the areas of lighting, HVAC and process equipment. The CEC continues to work tirelessly to meet its goals, such as California Carbon Zero – a pledge to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 – and is simultaneously influencing

Understanding New Technologies

In concert with state energy codes, California’s utilities are deeply engaged in understanding and evaluating the technologies that address the statewide need to reduce energy consumption. These projects provide valuable information that help utilities identify successful solutions that their customers can use to comply with regulation, while helping utilities reduce both load and demand on the over-stretched grid. An example is a recent study, sponsored by the Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) Emerging Technologies Program, to understand more about the efficacy of advanced lighting controls and LEDs in the industrial sector. Specifically, the company wanted data to determine whether the energy savings from advanced integrated controls with LEDs were dramatically higher than the energy savings from plain LEDs in order to develop incentive programs that supported the most effective products. 

This landmark, eight-month study, conducted at an Ace Hardware distribution facility outside of Sacramento, replaced 400-watt metal halide fixtures with 180-watt intelligent LED fixtures. It isolated and calculated the wattage savings from changing the illumination source, as well as the effects of various controls measures – individually and collectively. The result? The study documented a 93 percent reduction in lighting energy use overall, half attributable to using LEDs and the other half from the controls measures. By taking advantage of occupancy-driven lighting delivery, available daylight, scheduled lighting settings and dimming, the facility was able to save far more energy than if they had used simple LEDs. 

Another important aspect of the intelligent LED lighting system – which consists of wireless networks of intelligent fixtures with embedded sensors – is that it provides large amounts of data along with software that reports on detailed lighting system performance and energy use. This made it simple to analyze performance data for the study, and it has a secondary benefit, as well. The systems-based approach offers a new level of operational insight to the facility management team above and beyond the lighting energy savings and is paid for by the energy savings, themselves. The lighting energy savings are dramatic, but the data is invaluable for ongoing system fine-tuning and commissioning to ensure continued alignment between the lighting system settings and the facility’s usage patterns and minimize ‘drift’ over time. 

Innovations around sustainability in the built environment are almost too numerous to count, which makes the annual Greenbuild Conference a fascinating showcase of the possibilities. However, as the example of intelligent lighting shows, some solutions offer additional operational benefits beyond energy efficiency, and it is critical to understand those long-term opportunities when considering any sustainable technologies or materials. There are several questions to consider, including: Does the technology have the ability to provide meaningful data? Is there a way to transmit the data? Is there a means to analyze the data? Is there a means to share or integrate the data with other systems – within a facility or across multiple sites? 

Applying these questions to the next generation of solutions for the built environment will create the opportunities to maximize efficiency now and operational excellence for the long term. 

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