Passive Solar Design Overview

This page offers an excellent primer on Passive Solar Design. The concepts can easily be incorporated into most new and existing buildings, residential, commercial, industrial and mixed uses. Check it out!   socrates-sun-tempered-house

Passive Solar Design Link


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


 Welcome to the third and final part Top Sustainable Trends for 2014. In my last post, I covered top threads four through six; now we’re on to the homestretch: numbers seven through ten. I applaud and thank you if you made it through the prior to posts.

Here again 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

 Benefits of Sustainability

 In part 1 I explained why I believe sustainability is important for facilities management and explained the three primary benefits of sustainability:
  • Financial F
  • Environmental E
  • Social S
 Please read my prior post for more details on each sustainability benefit. As in that post, I list the primary (Capitalized) and secondary (lower case) benefit for each trend. Your situation may be different and you may be able to justify any sustainable initiative by any of these benefits.

Her’s my final four:

7.     Materials & Resources – Efs

While the environment is the big winner when you switch from toxic chemicals and products containing hazardous materials, such as VOCs (volatile organic compounds), you can actually save a lot of money, largely due to contributing to the health of your employees and other building occupants. Other companies will soon follow sustainability leaders like Google, who search and deploy the most sustainable products for their workplaces. In Google’s case, Social is the big reason as they are sincerely concerned about the health effects from toxic and hazardous materials in the built environment.
Here are some basic sustainable things that every FM should implement that require some work, but can usually be justified.
  1. Green labeling – ask your vendors for it – there, that won’t cost you a dime. Make sure that the green or sustainable material labeling is certified by a thrid party and is not just an industry “rubber stamp” to make their products look green. Also, be sure to ask for MSDS, which list all the chemicals of products before allowing them in your facility
  2. Travel distance – seek local sources. Ghandi said it was a sin to buy something from someone farther away then from someone nearby. Maybe, but it certainly is better for the environment and your local economy to procure items locally than from half way around the world.
  3. Embedded Energy – this one gets a bit complex and I honestly don’t know how one calculates the total energy used to produce and deliver a product. Therefore, ask your supplier. If they don’t know, then ask another one. The information is out there, you just need to look for it.
  4. Food – I could (and maybe will soon) write an entire article on food for the workplace. In brief, look for sustainably grown (organic if possibe) food that is mininally procressed and produced as local as possible.
  5. Small, Diverse suppliers– simply put, diversity is good. We’ve all seen pictures of mass produced buildings (think suburban sprawl in this country or fomer Eastern Bloc concrete apartment buildings. You wouldn’t want to live in any of those, so why whould you want your employees to work in one? You may pay a bit more when you give some of your business to small suppliers, but most of that money will stay in the community verses Fortune 500 type companies that usually don’t have that local connection and 90% of their money typically goes elsewhere. Check out this great book that I read late last year, “The Unwinding: an Inner History of the New America”, for more examples about the benefits of small local suppliers.
  6. Employment practices – so you found a great deal on office chairs made halfway around the world. OK, how are they treating their workers? Is it consistent with your sustainability goals or even your “good corporate citizen” values?
  7. Cradle to Cradle – Remaking the Way We Make Things by Michael Braungart and William McDonough changed the way that I thought about all products, not just those for the workplace. Essentially, we need to determine what will happen to products at the end of their initial intended useful life – reuse or re-purpose or have them biodegrade quickly rather than dumping them into landfills or worse, scattering them around the globe, swept under the rug for someone else to deal with.
  8. Natural (virgin) vs. recycled – we usually think that recycled materials are better than new ones. However, there are times that a sustainably produced new product is better than a recycled one. For example, when considering copy/print paper, how much embedded energy is used to use recycled content? Also, what chemicals are used for each process and where does it come from? See Items 2, 5 & 6 above.

8. Quality of Services (Sustainable Services) – Sef

Most likely, you are not completely sure what I mean by Quality Services and how this might be a sustainable trend. In the world of Facilities Management, much of what we do and how our customers experience our profession is through the services that we provide. This really is the foundation of FM and must be mastered before you will be considered for other, more complex assignments and responsibilities. Little things can have a huge impact on how your customers perceive your services. By providing more sustainable services, which are becoming ever more important to our customers, we can oftentimes add to the service quality. Here are some examples:
Cleaning products & practices – since our building occupants spend so much time indoors, little things like strong cleaning smells can greatly effect employee productivity and service impressions as can, of course, the lack or perceived lack of cleanliness. Beyond looking at quality and responsiveness, which are fundamentally important to a clean workplace, using non-toxic chemicals and efficient means to remove dust and dirt can improve your customer perception of your workplace. Consider moving cleaning from after hours to normal work hours as this will show your occupants that someone really is cleaning their space and will reduce the amount of after-hours lighting, which will help save money.
Document management – how many storage rooms do you have at your facility? How many of them contain boxes of old paper records which are needed yet rarely accessed? Best practice is to implement a document scanning and archiving system which eliminates the paper documents altogether. If that may not possible, then research document storage companies to store your documents off-site. I recently did this for a customer where we stored about 1,000 boxes off-site that were being stored in a building that was being closed. There were no start up costs – the document management company inventoried all the boxes, moved them and set up a web-based database for free. In addition, there was no rent for the first year! They make their money primarily when someone needs to access and deliver an historic document, but even that fee was quite reasonable. What makes this sustainable is that you have just freed up hundreds of square feet, thereby possibly avoiding procuring more space and / or building more walls for rooms.
Food – In addition to the items that I mentioned in item 7.4 above, look at how you serve food to your employees. Reusable mugs, plates and silverware are a lot better for the environment than throwaway ones. Implementing washing reusable ceramic mugs while eliminating paper or Styrofoam ones is easy, fast (especially if you already have dishwashers) and sends a positive sustainable message to your workplace occupants.
Other site services that you can offer in more sustainable ways include office supplies and paper (where you can investigate sources as well as material content), mail, shipping & receiving (eliminate waste and look at packaging material, copy and printing services (lots of ways to reduce waste), meeting reservation (optimize usage avoid building more) and the materials used for hard-scape maintenance.

9. Site Impact – Ef

In August 2013, I posted an article that I titled, “Building Siting & the Building Envelope – The Developers’ Curse”  where I detail the problems with today’s buildings where the developer does not consider either the siting of the building (for optimal solar gain/avoidance) or how the building envelope is constructed. We are slowly starting to see siting and the building envelope getting back into the construction conversation, so I’m optimistic that we will begin to see more solar sited sustainable shells in the near-term.
Here are five more Site Impact sustainable trends to look for (or implement):
  1. Landscape maintenance – look at the plants in your landscape: are they compatible with your climate? Also look at how you maintain them. Eliminate in-organic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, including Round-Up. Ask your landscape maintenance contractor for MSDS sheets for everything they use.
  2. Rainwater run-off is getting a lot of attention with new projects where Bio-Swells are becoming more common and even mandated as a means to limit and reduce rainwater run-off into urban and suburban sewer systems
  3. Road, sidewalk & parking surfaces – hard surfaces prevent absorption of rainwater and allows the oil and pollutants from autos and vehicles to easily enter the storm drainage systems, which usually flows and pollutes rivers, lakes and seas. When possible, use more permeable surfaces, such as crushed gravel, which work quite well for sidewalks.
  4. Exterior lighting – Light pollution is gaining more attention and will result in more mandates for sensors to turn off exterior lighting when no motion is sensed as well as lights that direct down rather than upward or outward into adjacent properties where it may not be wanted.
  5. Traffic – even in these so-so economic times, traffic levels seem to be higher than ever. Facilities Managers are increasingly being tasked with helping their organizations reduce traffic and provide better alternative means for their employees to commute. Solutions to be considered are: ride sharing / car pool programs, shuttle buses, locating facilities near good public transit, bicycle lockers and showers and discount packages for public transit.

10. Sustainable Roofing – Ef

I have been involved with a considerable number of roofing projects lately as Silicon Valley’s commercial buildings age. (at least the ones that don’t get torn down first). Most roof warranties are between 10 and 20 years) and any 25 year old roof is overdue for a full replacement.
For flat commercial facilities, the four most popular types of new roofs are:
  • TPO – Thermoplastic Polyolefin single-ply roofing have gained tremendous popularity in the past 10 years. See graph. And for good reason: the seam strength is reported to be 3 to 4 times stronger than EPDM, plus it’s white finish reflects abundant solar rays thereby reducing the “heat island effect” as well as keeping the building interior cooler than dark roof surfaces. Also, there are no plasticizers added and TPO does not degrade under UV radiation.
  • PVC roof installations, meanwhile have barely gained market-share over the same 10 year period. One reason is that it is subject to “plasticizer migration”, which causes the sheets to become brittle. However, the most likely reason that PVC roofs have not gained popularity is due to the significant environmental hazards from the toxicity of the manufacturing process as well as the noxious compounds released in a fire such as hydrochloric acid fumes and byproducts including dioxin, a potent carcinogen.
  • EPDM – Ethylene propylene diene monomeris a synthetic rubber most commonly used in single-ply roofing because it is readily available and relatively simple to apply. However it is one of the most costly to install and generally does not have the solar reflective qualities of TPO and PVC. Hence its popularity continues to plummet.
  • BUR & Modified Bitumen –   Once the most common new roof type, Asphalt BUR roofs have been around a very long time, but are becoming increasingly less popular (along with Modified Bitumen). If well maintained, these roof types can have extended lives by applying foam coverings, which also makes them more reflective. However, it’s been my experience that most of these roof types are not consistently well maintained and replacement becomes the only option available. When they are not well maintained, these materials tend to fail rather quickly. Lastly, when compared to other roofing systems, installation of asphalt roofs is more energy-intensive and contributes to atmospheric air pollution (toxic, and green-house gases are lost from the asphalt during installation), making this roof type a poor choice for the sustainably minded FM.

For commercial buildings, a  few other sustainable roofing options exist, such as metal, shingle and tile roofs, but none are practical for large commercial buildings, typical in urban and suburban areas. Lastly, I’d love to see more solar PV and vegetative roofs, but the costs continue to make these choices no more than novelty installations as both require a sub-roof, generally one of the four common types listed above.

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My Picks for the Top Facilities Sustainable Trends for 2014, Part 2 of 3


Welcome to part 2 of 3 of My Top Sustainable Trends for 2014. In my last post, I titled it the top trends for 2013, but since 2014 is just around the corner, I’m changing the title to reflect the new as I expect these trends to continue for the near future. The previous post covered my top three trends and I tackle numbers four through six in this one. Here again is my Top 10 list:

My Top Sustainable FM Trends for 2013

  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

Benefits of Sustainability

In part 1 I explained why I believe sustainability is important for facilities management and described the three primary benefits of sustainability:

  • Financial F
  • Environmental E
  • Social S

Please read my prior post for more details on each sustainability benefit. As in my previous post, I list the primary (Capitalized) and secondary (lower case) benefit for each trend. Your situation may be different and you may be able to justify any sustainable initiative by any of these benefits.

Continue reading below and I’ll explain why items 4 through 6 above made my list.

4. Workplace Management – Fse

When I mention Workplace Management to some of my friends and colleagues as a top sustainable FM trend, many have told me that they aren’t completely sure what Workplace Management means. Having spent most of my FM career over the past 20 years helping organizations to optimize their workplaces, Workplace Management seems second nature to me, and I’m surprised to find that many organizations don’t formally practice it; therefore they don’t understand how beneficial and sustainable it is.

Workplace Management is the practice of managing facilities and facility assets in a way to obtain the best possible return on the organizations’s investment. To do this, look at the workplace as an asset, a very expensive one that you want to make sure is used well. It’s like buying a computer or and expensive vehicle for work. It will cost you a lot of money to obtain the work-space, infrastructure and systems needed to make sure that it helps make some of that money back. If you buy a delivery truck, but only use it a few times a year, I’d say that you are either foolish, very rich or both. Most of us are not that fortunate, so we would want to make sure that we use this vehicle as much as possible for deliveries that our customers are willing to pay us to deliver. The workplace is kind of like that delivery truck: you want that investment to help return some of the money that it’s costing you.

Organizations spend a lot of money for rent, improvements, infrastructure and operating expenses to house their employees and their operations. If you decided to lease a large building, say 50,000 SF and only used 5,000 SF for your employees, equipment, inventory, etc., then you would not be utilizing that space or asset very well unless you were reasonably certain that you could put the remaining space to good use quickly. Most people are not foolish enough to take on too much space, but what if they used to have 8 times as many people, then had to fire most due to a business down-turn. Now you need to figure out what to do; this is where I have helped many companies to right-size their facilities to their current and future needs.

But that’s not all. Even if virtually all your desks were assigned and you had equipment, inventory and other assets in other parts of your space, you still may not be optimizing it. For example, how well and often do your employees actually work at their desks? I have written a book on strategic facilities planning / workplace management, and could go into a great detail more, but will only touch on a few beneficial highlights here.

  1. Higher utilization – find out your rates and hire an experienced professional to find ways to improve.
  2. More flexible spaces – the days of dedicated private offices and cubes are coming to an end. A room can serve multiple functions and its used should be reconfigured quickly and easily to adapt to different uses.
  3. More choices & collaboration areas for employees – just as you don’t spend all your time in one room doing one thing in your home, employees and other building occupants spend their day doing a variety of tasks, including collaborating, which is becoming increasingly important for successful teamwork.
  4. “Focus Space” – of course, employees don’t collaborate all day and need to find places where they can quietly focus on individual work. No, cubicles are not the solution. Please see my July 2013 posts for more information about Focus Space.
  5. Technology tools – requirements for today’s 24/7 mobile workforce.
  6. Telecommuting & transportation – I discuss sustainable transportation options below (Top Trend No. 6), but the key point here is that by providing your employees with alternative transportation options to/from work (public or private) you can significantly impact both space requirements as well as utilization. For example, if your facility is located near good public transit with abundant nearby 3rd party places for people to work, you may be able to reduce or eliminate some the the “Third Spaces” within your facility, such as large break rooms.
  7. Culture & Change Management – changing the workplace will effect your culture, so a move can mean more than just a different address. It’s the perfect time to initiate change and align yoImageur workplace to your culture.

5. Waste Management – Ef

Sustainable waste management practices can be divided into two categories:

Anytime you can avoid a new construction project, you are usually operating more sustainability than if you undertake a project. However most sustainable projects are better for an organization than “do nothing”/ maintain status quo, so we should learn how we can implement sustainable construction practices. There are several ways to manage construction projects more sustainably.

First, goals should be established to produce less waste, especially to landfills. Not only is this a win for the environment, but with waste disposal costs forecasted to continue to climb, it will also lower your project costs. Work with your contractor to determine their waste management strategy and how they can share their cost savings with you prior to contracting the work.

BIM and off-site prefabrication are gradually becoming common practices for larger construction projects – and for good reason. By determining more precisely the amount of piping, ducts, electrical conduits, etc., prior to the start of construction you can eliminate over-ordering and project generated waste. I once worked at a company that was continuously changing lab equipment, which required frequent changes to expensive piping, such as high-purity stainless steel. Since no one could determine exactly how much would be required for each project, the piping contractor simply ordered extra inventory, then would use as needed. We could have saved a lot of money if we had ordered just what we needed for each project, especially if much of it could have been prefabricated offsite beforehand. BIM allows you to do this.

Numerous Operations and Maintenance waste reducing opportunities exist once a facility is occupied and operational. These include:
  • Recycling
  • Paper, Printing and Copying
  • Food
  • Paper Towels
  • Batteries and e-Waste

By now everyone is not only familiar with recycling, but also practices it at some level. So how can this be a top trend for 2013? Because there is always room for improvement and we still send too much waste to landfills, I believe that we are going to get more creative with finding ways to reduce or eliminate waste, reuse what would have been tossed out or recycle items that we didn’t think possible a few years ago. For example, it wasn’t that long ago that we all had to pay to get rid of electronic waste. Today, there is a very competitive market willing to pay pretty good money for your old e-waste junk.

While our communities are making it easier to recycle by sorting off-site (single stream), I believe that duel-stream (where each of us pre-sort our waste) will become popular again because the economics will drive this. For example, in San Jose, they recently switched trash collection companies because the new one is contracted to keep something like 95% of the waste it collects out of landfills. This is great, but unless you pre-sort your waste, you are paying for this service. Thus, recycling, great for the environment but also makes financial sense and will continue to do so.

Today’s multi-function devices (MFD) do a lot more than just print and copy – they can actually help reduce paper and toner use. By requiring users to log in to a MFD (which can be as easy as waving an employee badge by a scanner), it forces users to only print what they need and not reprint documents when someone else accidentally retrieved their document. With more and more documents going to the cloud, I see the need to print finally heading towards that “paperless office” we’ve been hearing about for years.

Dealing with food waste is a huge opportunity. Composting is just getting off the ground at many larger corporate sites but there are many other opportunities for food waste, including cooking oil for bio-diesel.

Lastly, I continue to see the dreaded Z-fold towels in facilities. These enemies to the environment and your operations budget should not still exist in 2013! Many cheaper, better alternatives have been available for so many years that and facility manager worth their salary would have replaced their Z-folds in their first 6 months on their job. I did 5 years ago at a company that required an ROI of 6 months or less! I declare 2014 to be the year of the death of Z-fold towels!

6. Transportation – Se

I’m sure that many of you are surprise to see transportation on my top sustainable FM trend list. After all, aren’t we talking about buildings. We’ll, yes and no: we are talking about buildings, but buildings without people would be a ghost town. How people get to and from your buildings has a tremendous, perhaps the biggest impact on how sustainable your site is.

Automobiles continue to be a leading source of air pollution and greenhouse gases. Even with better emission standards and more fuel-efficient vehicles, the sprawling “automobile infrastructure ” has paved over excess natural land and open space. In addition, the cost to maintain sprawling development is much greater than a concentrated one. Lastly, as Jane Jacobs enlighten us over 50 years ago, interesting, diverse, mixed use environments are much more safer and sustainable than monotonous ones where most trips are via autos.

While the primary benefit of sustainable transportation is to provide a better way for employees to commute to and from work, the real, hidden benefit is the environment. Unfortunately, making the financial benefit argument is so difficult, that most organization don’t really think about it until it is too late and their employees are screaming for a better way to commute.

With the recent establishment of SPUR ( in the Bay Area, I believe that our metro area and others throughout the U.S. will finally bring transportation problems AND solutions to the forefront.

Here is my list of the top ways that you can provide more sustainable transportation to your building occupants.
  1. Public transit – the good news is that we in this country have a lot of opportunities to
    improve. Regardless, close proximity to adequate public transit should be near the top of your list when looking for space.
  2. Car pool & van pools – anything you can do to get people out of their SUVs is good for all.
  3. Flex-time – unless you have a manufacturing operation, why force your employees to waste time and energy in traffic?
  4. Parking – do you offer your employees with free or subsidized parking? If so, why? Consider charging them as an incentive to get out their cars or at least carpool.
  5. Bikes – biking to work is becoming an increasingly popular commute choice for employees. Invest in secure, weatherproof bike storage along with showers to keep up with the growing demand.
  6. Electric vehicles – it’s amazing how quickly electric vehicles or “plug-ins” have become. Last year I was asked to install the four charging stations at a facility, which I’m sure are well used by now.

As you can see, there are many ways that you can support sustainable transportation practices as a facility manager and the demand to do more will continue to increase.

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.


Title 24 FM Round-Table Seminar at Omnicell on 11/13/13

On November 13, 2013, I’ll be the moderator at the last FM Round-Table (FMRT) of the year for the Silicon Valley chapter of IFMA at Omnicell’s new headquarters in Mountain View, CA. Please sign up now as space is limited and I’m sure it will sell out.

The session will cover the 2013 Title 24 changes for lighting. The changes go into effect less than TWO months away on January 1, 2014.  Are you ready for the new lighting controls, installation and acceptance testing requirements that will be required?

Cori Jackson and Kelly Cunningham of the California Lighting Technology Center (CLTC) at U.C. Davis will present the major changes for lighting and lighting controls for both new projects and retrofits. In this 45 minute session, they will present an overview of the Title 24 updates as they pertain to commercial, office, parking and industrial facilities with a special focus on lighting controls. Case studies and practical examples of the implementation of the strategies discussed will support the presentation.

After the presentation, attendees will have the opportunity to see first-hand the advanced“Enlighted” lighting control system installed at Omnicell

Simple, Smart, Sustainable Savings that improve occupant comfort  – a Triple-Bottom-Line win-win-win!

The Problem with “Green Building” Lists

As a facilities manager with over 20 years experience and a certified Sustainable Facilities Professional (SFP) I have a keen interest current sustainable building practices. A recent blurb from an IFMA electronic newsletter got my attention. The headline claimed to list the top “green building processes” for 2013, so I clicked to read more and here is what the author claims are the top sustainable building practices for 2013. [1]

Here are her top picks:

  1. Codes Implementation
  2. Cloud Management
  3. Green Building Disclosure
  4. High-efficient Buildings
  5. Water Conservation
  6. Environmental and Health Product Declarations
  7. Solar Power
  8. Carbon Reduction
  9. Green Retrofit
  10. Higher Standards

As I was researching each of these “top processes” I ran across a June article that listed the following top “eco-friendly trends in the construction business” for 2013:

  1. Solar Energy
  2. Bamboo Flooring
  3. Recycled materials
  4. Energy efficient processes
  5. Smaller structures
  6. Green roofing
  7. Increased emphasis on the “green” standard
  8. More efficient heating and cooling
  9. Increased use of natural resources
  10. Availability of more eco-friendly options

Any REFM professional with even a brief understanding of sustainability will be scratching their heads like I did after reading these lists. Anyone (think David Letterman) can come up with a Top-10 List of anything and with the right connections get even the most ridiculous lists published (or blog it, like me!).

Before assuming that a “top list” is valid, do a little research first. My analysis of these two lists revealed that these authors are no experts in sustainable buildings and are both quite confused about the subject as few of their items would make my “top ten” list of sustainable building practices for 2013

But before you read my critique below, I’d like you to jot down what you think are the top-ten sustainable building practices for 2013. How does your list compare to the two above? At the end of this article, I provide my own Top-10 sustainable building practices for 2013. And certainly, if you disagree with my assertions, please let me know!

Ready? Here we go!

Solar Energy / Power

This item made it into both lists, so I’ll discuss this one first. In an attempt to justify this item on his list, one of the authors stated that “solar energy panels” are increasingly being installed on the roof. While the trend for PV panels on residential buildings continues to climb (three times more panels were installed in 2012 than in 2009 and Q1-2013 is 33% higher than Q1-2012), I’m not seeing increases on commercial structures. Indeed, a graph produced by GTM Research – SEIA this year shows that “non-residential installations peaked in Q1-2012. In addition, I attended Intersolar North America this past July in San Francisco where over 90% of the companies that had a table at the job fair only installed photovoltaic panels on residential structures, mostly single-family homes. While I applaud the continued increase of PV on U.S. homes, the lack of increase in non-residential buildings is enough leave this off my top-10 list.


There are many reasons why solar PV installations for commercial buildings are not currently rapidly increasing. The top reasons are:

  1. There is no mandate for them from governments or voters, only a few incentives
  2. The ROI is still too high for most commercial tenants (7 years is about the best, after rebates and tax credits). They are also usually too small to attract third-part investors.
  3. The conflicting goals of landlords and tenants – landlords don’t perceive that PV installations add value to their assets and don’t pay for energy (the tenant does). For tenants, the ROI is too long, usually longer than their lease.
  4. There is too much invested in the existing electrical infrastructure by giant utility companies which sees roof-top or dispersed PV as a threat to their world. A recent article in Bloomberg Business Week highlighted this dilemma.

Smaller structures / High-efficient Buildings

This item made both lists as well even though they were given different titles. After reading the single paragraph descriptions by both authors, it’s apparent they are both referring to single-family homes. They both make the argument that smaller homes are more sustainable because they use fewer materials and have less space to heat and cool. OK, I’ll buy that, but both miss critical points about homes.

First, multi-unit dwellings are more sustainable (easier to heat and cool) than single-family homes due to the shared walls and usually constructed better. Second, one should look at the type of construction and the building envelope. A large well-constructed and well-designed home can be much more efficient than a poorly designed and constructed small one. Lastly, one needs to look the larger picture – how are the homes “sited” and how they are connected to the rest of the community – availability of public transit, proximity of work, shopping, etc. Denser, in-fill development that is close to public transit, places of employment, shopping and entertainment are much more sustainable than single family houses in low density suburbs where residents need to rely much more on automobiles for transportation. This is why Manhattan or San Francisco residents on average live more sustainable lives than those in Silicon Valley.

Are we seeing this trend in commercial buildings? Hardly, as more and more old single-story ones are torn down for higher 5+ floor structures, at least in Silicon Valley. This is actually a good sustainable building trend, but only if employees in these new, denser, in-fill developments can easily commute by means other than single-occupant autos. No way this makes my list. Instead, I may add an opposite trend, Larger Structures to a future list if residential densification starts to increase.

Water Conservation

For the past 40 years that I have been in California, we have been seeking and implementing ways to continue to conserve more water. Are the wetter parts of the country catching up? The costs for water keep going up, so why not find ways, such as xeriscaping and low water usage fixtures (both becoming much more common in commercial facilities) to reduce use and waste? So, this one makes my list too.

Availability of more eco-friendly options / Environmental and Health Product Declarations

I agree that this is a popular trend; both list-makers had it on their lists (with different titles) and I include it on my list under Materials and Resource Management. Since there still is a lot of green-washing out there, you really need to do your homework to determine whether a product is truly sustainable and has minimally harmed the environment during the production, transportation, installation, usage and post-usage. Building materials such as paints, finishes, carpets, furniture as well as building materials all appear to be more sustainable than before, but with over 400 eco-labels throughout the world, how do you know?

One place to start is by requesting the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), which can tell you about the product’s contents and hazardous materials. Another source is the Global Ecolabelling Network (GEN), which is a nonprofit association of third-party environmental performance recognition, certification and labeling organizations. Other reputable eco certified sources are the ISEAL Alliance and Green Seal. When it comes to wood products, look for wood products that have been certified sustainable by the independent Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) rather than the industry-sponsored Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) which relies on self-certification rather than by third parties.

Bamboo Flooring

I like bamboo flooring – I really do, but is this truly a top-ten item? My experience is that carpet still rules both the home and commercial buildings.

At home, bamboo is just one of many sustainable options for home owners like me who want to avoid carpet. The other options are cork, linoleum (not made from vinyl, but the real stuff made from a concoction of linseed oil, cork dust, tree resins, wood flour, pigments and ground limestone), concrete, rubber, reclaimed hardwood among others.

In the workplace and commercial interiors, I see bamboo more and more, but carpet still rules. With most carpets now made of recyclable materials or natural ones (or a combination of both) it can qualify as a sustainable building material, leaving bamboo flooring off my list.

Energy efficient processes

The author who listed this claims that builders will continue to focus on making “eco-friendly structures” via “environmentally-friendly” processes. Honestly, what the heck does this mean? I would like to know which general contractors or builders are building more sustainably, what exactly are they doing and why.

This is too vague to make my list and I will contact my GC community to find out more. For example, are they using more recyclable materials, materials that can be reused (cradle to cradle) generating less waste, fewer hazardous materials, more items pre-manufactured in a factory or using technology, such as BIM?. The author gives us no clue.

Green Roofing

The author neglects to identify what they mean by Green Roofing – sustainable, non-toxic materials, installation practices that greatly reduce waste, PV installation or a “living roof” with plants? It’s my experience that landlords who lease out spaces in their buildings (rather than owner-occupiers) dominate the commercial building industry and they are slowly moving to sustainable practices, mostly because they need to comply with higher regulation requirements such as Title 24 in California.

For example, I am managing a complex re-roofing project for a client who leases the facility. The original roof is past end-of-life of the 25+ year old building and the owner has decided to replace the roof. They decided to install a CEC Title 24 compliant 60 mil, white thermoplastic single-ply (TPO) membrane, mechanically-fastened over a single layer of 1/4 inch fiberglass wrapped gypsum core board mechanically fastened to the plywood substrate. While the MSDS does not list any of the chemicals that are contained in this product as hazardous, it is a plastic material, rather than an organic or natural one. Its high reflectivity gives it a high Energy Star rating, which should help reduce future building energy costs. This type of roof is quite typical and rarely will a landlord who views a commercial building as an asset to be protected want to risk more exotic types of roofs such a living roof or even one with photovoltaic panels. OK, this one will make my list as Sustainable Roofing.

Increased emphasis on the “green” standard / Codes Implementation

I have no idea why both authors chose to include this item. One refers to something called “Eco-friendly practices” but then fails to define what that means. What is this mythical “green standard” that he alludes to? There is so much green-washing and definitions of sustainable building that one can’t honestly state that a standard exists. LEED is an attempt to promote sustainable construction, but there are many ways to achieve various levels of certification that one can’t say that there is a LEED standard. BREEM is a similar system.

I decided to combine the other author’s Code Implementation trend with the “green standard” item because she asserts that 2013 is the year that “municipalities had made official and enforceable” building codes that include “a new section for green buildings” Is she implying that contractors didn’t follow codes as well before this year or that prior to 2013 none could be considered sustainable practices? Who knows, as she failed to enlighten us with any examples.

In California, we will be implementing significant changes to Title 24 on January 1, 2014 that will greatly the improve energy efficiency of buildings, including lighting for commercial, residential and even parking structures. Parts of this may make my list next year, but not this year.

More efficient heating and cooling

One of the authors leads their paragraph under this section with the ridiculous statement: “Reducing energy consumption has always been a priority in the industry.” It’s not clear whether he is referring to the building construction or HVAC industry. He continues, claiming that the “industry’s” interest in offering more efficient buildings will “result in reducing construction and maintain costs”. Whichever industry he refers to, his statements are just plain false. Neither the construction/building or HVAC industries give a hoot about providing consumers with more efficient systems; they only care about maximizing profits like any good capitalist.

However, the author is on to something because it is true that buildings and the HVAC systems are becoming more efficient, but not because the industry wants to help building occupants. No, we can thank voters and consumers for mandating their governments to implement regulations, such as Title 24 in California, that force building industries (including HVAC and lighting) to innovate and produce more efficient building solutions. This one will make my list under Energy Efficiency.

Increased use of natural resources

I almost agree with this, but I’m not sure how true it is. The problem is that natural resources could mean anything. Oil and petro products are natural resources as are coal and other fossil fuels. Are we using more? Globally yes, but conservation and renewables are actually putting a dent in some, like coal. OK, this is not what the author meant because he claims that stone is what he meant by “natural resources” (I believe that he meant “natural materials”, but once again this poor soul is confused.). In any event, where does the building industry use stone except for counters and floors? It’s no longer an acceptable structural material or used widely for fireplaces where earthquakes and air pollution laws have largely banned them. With the rise of recyclable materials now being used in the building industry, I will keep this one off my list.

Cloud Management (green building automation)

What the author calls “Cloud Management” and “green building automation”, is really nothing more than expanding building automation systems and making them available from the internet. As a facility manager, I love being able to get into my building’s HVAC system remotely and the building automation market continues to grow adding items such as lighting, security and other data from building sensors to the remote FM’s dashboard. But is this really a green or sustainable practice or making more information available in real time to home owners and facility managers? This uncertainty keeps this one off my list.

Green Building Disclosure

The author claims that because of AB-32, we in California are now required to “disclose the actual green building performance to all new tenants and buyers”. Wrong. AB 32 does not pertain to Sustainable Building Performance standards, but authorizes the CACC to implement regulations to reduce California’s carbon footprint.

AB1103 mandates energy benchmarking and energy disclosure for non-residential buildings. AB1103 requires non-residential business owners to input energy consumption and other building data into the Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager System, which generates an energy efficiency rating for the building. I welcome this disclosure, but since it hasn’t been implemented yet (it’s been delayed from 2010 to next year), it’s off my list.

Carbon Reduction

OK, now we are back to initiatives like AB 32 that mandate that we find ways to reduce our carbon footprint. But according to the author who put this item on her list, carbon reduction is happening because of an unspecified “desire for net-zero buildings”. Really??! Since I am very interested in building designs that attempt to achieve net-zero goals, I have heard only a few projects in the U.S. that hope to achieve this goal, but I don’t know of a single landlord, tenant or homeowner that ever told me that net-zero is a goal for them.

So what is driving carbon reduction activities in the building trade? Consumers and voters for bills like AB 32, which was signed into law in 2006 with a goal for achieving 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) cap by the end of 2020. Thus, while some governments have taken steps to reduce its GHGs by mandating higher energy efficiency performance from buildings, I don’t consider this a top 2013 building trend but as a part of the Energy Efficiency trend on my list.

Green Retrofit

What is a Green Retrofit? As I noted with LEED for new construction, owners, investors and occupants of existing buildings can choose a number of ways to make their buildings “greener” via implementing more sustainable practices in the management and maintenance of their facilities as well as choosing more sustainable method when remodeling. I searched for data to support that “green retrofitting” is a top trend for 2013, but the best I could find was a graph from USGBC that shows the rate of increase for LEED projects is actually slowing. In any event, this item is too vague for my list.

Higher Standards

The author who placed this on her list writes, “companies are starting to respect the public” – what does this mean? Companies only care about four things: their customers (current & potential), employees, shareholders and suppliers. Unless “the public” are their customers, companies don’t care about them and whether they desire sustainable products. In my opinion, most of “the public” could care less about sustainable products; in these tough economic times they are generally more concerned about saving money and finding the best deal at places like Walmart, so scratch this one from my list.

So, about one fourth of the 2013 top trends from the two lists made it to my list. How many made yours? As promised, here is my list – do you agree more with mine? In my next article I will explain why each of these deserves to be in a top-10 building trend list.

My List

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

[1] Note – I hate the term “green” and unless I am quoting someone will substitute it with sustainable, which the United Nations defines and IFMA accepts as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.