My Picks for the Top Facilities Sustainable Trends for 2014, Part 1 of 3


In my September post, I critiqued a couple of Top Building & FM Sustainability Trends for 2013. I took a few swipes and some off the more outrageous items such as Cloud Management and Solar Power.  Now it’s my turn to list my top sustainable FM picks and risk getting swiped at.. Here it is, my Top 10 list:

My Top Sustainable FM Trends for 2014

  1. Energy Efficiency
  2. Indoor Environmental Quality
  3. Water Conservation
  4. Workplace Management
  5. Waste Management
  6. Transportation
  7. Materials and Resources
  8. Sustainable Services
  9. Site Impact & Landscaping
  10. Sustainable Roofing

Continue reading below and I’ll explain why each of these made my list. Note, this is the first of a three part post, where I discuss the top 3 trends, bold above, in this post.

Benefits of Sustainability

First, I’d like to clarify the benefits of sustainability. FM sustainable practices and benefits can be broken down into the three categories that make up the Triple Bottom Line:

  • Financial F
  • Environmental E
  • Social S

Every corporate facility manager should understand the Financial benefits of a project or activity change and be able to explain both orally and in writing why it should be approved to decision makers and stakeholders. Capital projects are typically evaluated by organizational financial leaders, such as the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) for the return that they bring to the organization. For example, if replacing an boiler will result in saving money for natural gas, the CFO will want to know how long it will take to recover the money invested and when the savings begin. Most financial decision makers will approve facility improvements if the return on investment (ROI) is within two to three years, but this timeframe can vary from just a few months to 5 years or more. Also, depending on the critical nature of the facility and the priority of competing capital investments, it may be easier to get a sustainable project approved in a facility that supports R&D than in one that just houses office functions or one that has been deemed to be a short-term need.

As one might guess, the Environmental benefits of a project can be measured and assessed by how it will improve the planet’s environment or cause less harm. A different set of stakeholders are usually concerned about the projects and activities that the organization undertakes to improve the environment, such as customers, employees and government entities.

The Social benefits of a project or activity are generally those that will directly benefit the employees of the organization, its neighbors and the community at large.

A simple example, and one that every FM should implement, is to replace Z-Fold paper towels in restrooms, break-rooms and kitchens. Whether you choose to implement a hands-free paper roll or hand dryers, this is a pretty easy project change to justify on a financial basis. I was able to do this for a company that would only approve investments if the ROI were one year or less. The environmental benefit is obvious as any alternative to Z-Fold towels will result in less paper and waste, hence better for the environment. And yes, you can sell this one on the social benefit as it will improve the look and safety of restrooms as Z-Fold towel dispensers are notorious for dumping many more towels than needed, usually on the floor, counter and sink.

For my Top-10 list, I use the F-E-S initials to indicate where the major benefit may be and how it might be best “sold”. The lower-case f-e-s initials indicate that it is a secondary benefit. Thus, my first item, Energy Efficiency, has Fe following it, which means that pursuing Energy Efficiency projects and behavioral changes (i.e. turn down the thermostat or set points in the winter) will result in strong Financial benefits to the organization while having a secondary benefit of being good for the environment by using fewer fossil fuels, for example. The absence of a triple bottom line benefit (F E or S) for a sustainable initiative doesn’t mean that the benefit doesn’t exist, only that I believe that it would be harder to sell it via the missing benefit and its benefit is much smaller than the others,.

Here are the top 3 of my Top 10 Sustainability Trends for 2013 and why they make my list.

1.     Energy Efficiency – Fe

Every FM should have a goal to use less energy, eliminate waste (use responsibly) & increase renewable sources, if possible. I have been involved with Energy Efficiency projects before anyone thought about whether they were sustainable. With a proven history of easily meeting or exceeding the financial returns needed for these investments, most financial leaders should approve any energy efficiency project accompanied with a sound financial analysis. In addition as long as the HVAC, lighting and other FM energy industries continue to innovate, Energy Efficiency will remain a top FM trend for years to come.

Ideally, it is at the design phase for new construction that Energy Efficiency goals should be established and approved and communicated to the design team and other stakeholders. Looking beyond, pumps and light fixtures, the design team should consider these three key elements that will have a lasting impact on the building’s energy efficiency:

  • Building Envelope Siting – Please refer to my article, “Building Siting & the Building Envelope – The Developers’ Curse” from August 2013 for more information on this topic.
  • Flexibility –  Because the most sustainable project is the one you never have to do. If flexibility is built into the facility, it can eliminate or reduce the resources and waste of future projects.
  • Commissioning – Having been on both sides of the fence (project planning & design vs. operations) I can tell you that adequate commissioning is still challenging and frequently lacking. Poor or non-existent building commissioning is like buying new software without training, support or an operating manual. You hope that your FM has enough experience to optimize the new building systems, but he or she usually falls short with proper commissioning.

For existing facilities, there are a tremendous number of opportunities to improve the Energy Efficiency of your building even if the design falls short. The best place to start is by bench-marking your facility against other buildings by using the Energy Star Buildings and Plants site to determine how much work will be needed to bring your building up to sustainable standards.

Title 24 has had a huge impact in California over the past 35 years, leading to new innovation in HVAC systems, design and components as well as lighting upgrades and control systems. All these have decent paybacks and should be investigated.

Get started by finding a reputable HVAC and electrical lighting engineering contractor to partner with to help you identify specific areas of your facility that can be improved. For a nominal fee they should be able to provide you with a variety of possible improvements from No-Cost / Low-Cost fast solutions to capital improvements that may take months or years to implement.

Recently over a Thai lunch, I had a chance to talk to my friend Bob Dills, a partner at Western Allied Mechanical,  one or our area’s leading sustainable HVAC design firms, about innovative, sustainable HVAC. According to Bob, more customers are interested in radiant slab and active chilled beam designs in buildings, which greatly reduces the electrical consumption compared to pumps and compressors in traditional forced air systems. Another innovative sustainable HVAC design that his company recently implemented was a refrigerant-free cooling system that utilized only water evaporation and no compressors to provide adequate comfort to a science and technology building at a private high school, resulting in significantly less electricity consumption to operate the cooling system. As the cost of energy continues to increase, I foresee more and more innovative ways to cool commercial buildings, from recovery systems to using fewer pumps to move air and water around.

On the behavioral side, look into your electrical system maintenance and plug loads. More frequent maintenance and better load management can help reduce your electrical usage through efficiency.  With a regular communication and working program with your facility occupants you will likely find numerous opportunities to shut off or reduce equipment that are on unnecessarily.

Since the cost of energy, both via fossil fuels and renewable sources will continue to go up, seeking ways to reduce an organization’s energy costs via energy improvement investments should continue to remain a top sustainable trend for the foreseeable future.

2.     Indoor  Environmental Quality (IEQ) – Sef

With companies like Google seeking ways to keep their staff on-campus and usually indoors for as long as possible, it becomes critical to ensure that the indoor air and overall indoor environment be as healthy and hazard-free as possible. It has become routine in most U.S. corporations to insist that a MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) be submitted for approval prior to the arrival of any new product, chemical or material. While one can certainly make a financial (less absenteeism due to illness) and environmental argument for initiatives to improve IEQ, the main argument is to promote the health and well-being of building occupants, Social.

There are four key ways that an FM can improve and maintain a clean, healthy indoor environment. These are:

  • Air filtration – Optimal maintenance of HVAC systems and filters can bring the indoor air quality at higher levels than even the outside air.
  • Chemicals, such as cleaning products, in the workplace should be investigated thoroughly to ensure that harmful chemicals that can cause worker illness are not used in the work environment
  • Plants – numerous studies have shown that plants in the workplace help clean the air which results in lower worker absenteeism and higher worker productivity.
  • Hazardous materials / off-gassing – there are many other ways that hazardous chemicals find their ways to your facilities, from long-term items such as furniture, which may need time to off-gas off-site to temporary items, such as using gas leaf-blowers near air intake vents.
As we discover that more and more people develop health problems from hazardous materials from man-made chemicals, Indoor Environmental Quality will continue to increase in importance for many years to come.

3.     Water Conservation – Ef

Californians are used to conserving water since the drought in the 1970s. With another dry season behind us and our current rainy season off to a late start, we need to continue to find ways to conserve water. What is different is that other parts of the country, including the usually we East Coast are also now experiencing dryer than usual weather.Therefore, I see water conservation continuing to increase as water becomes scarcer and more costly (along with the costs to pump water from distant locations).

The graph below shows that while California has seen its population more than double from 15 million in 1960 to over 37 million in 2010, water consumption has increased less than 50% and largely unchanged in the past 10 years. With no new affordable sources of water, Californians must continue to conserve water to meet future growth.

There are three areas that we can look to conserve water: Inside buildings, building grounds & landscaping, and water sources.

Interior uses

There are many areas that we can seek to find opportunities to conserve water inside buildings. Here are the most common:

  1. Low-flow fixtures – faucets, toilets, showers, etc.
  2. Water-less fixtures, mostly urinals
  3. Hands free fixtures that automatically shut off to avoid waste
  4. Process applications – HVAC and process cooling water systems

Exterior uses

  1. Gray-water – reusing waste water to irrigate landscaping. San Jose and I’m sure many other California cities now have entire gray-water infrastructure of pipes of non-potable water around R&D and areas of new development.
  2. Xeroscaping – using native plants that require less water for landscaping. If you have a lawn and don’t use it for recreation then I strongly recommend that you remove it and plant beautiful native plants instead.

Water sources

Where does the water for your facility come from? Chances are, it has to be piped from another location, which means that costly pumps are used to move your water to your location. In urban northern California, most of our water comes from the Sierra Nevada mountains, is stored in huge reservoirs, pumped to local reservoirs, then injected into the aquifer where it is finally pumped back to the surface for final use. Such a system is neither cheap or efficient, and hardly sustainable. In other parts of the U.S. where water is more plentiful, aquifers are dropping and water continues to travel from greater distances. No matter where you live, we must always remember that water is a limited resource on earth and will always need to find ways to conserve it, re-use it and find ways to eliminate wasting it.