|Reducing the carbon footprint of an office building can take many forms, from simple awareness initiatives urging employees to turn off lights to more comprehensive plans that rely on technology for systematic control over energy consumption.|
By Christina Inge, Spinwave Systems
Improving sustainability is a goal for many businesses, but identifying an effective approach to reducing carbon emissions continues to pose a challenge for management. This is particularly true to for small to midsize companies, who struggle to get a good ROI on carbon footprint reduction systems. Fortunately, taking a multi-pronged approach can not only reduce capital expenditures, but also be more effective in reducing carbon emissions by addressing a whole range of factors related to how energy is consumed.
Commercial office buildings are the single largest consumers of energy in the US, according to two studies published by the US Department of Energy in 2003 and 2007. The studies found that 19% of the nation’s entire commercial energy usage comes from office buildings. And energy usage by commercial spaces of all kinds is a large portion of the nation’s total usage: 35% of all electricity use in the US is by commercial buildings. The majority of commercial office energy consumption, 63%, goes to lighting, heating, and cooling. Thus, addressing these systems within your building provides the single biggest potential source of energy savings.
Reducing the carbon footprint of an office building can take many forms, from simple awareness initiatives urging employees to turn off lights to more comprehensive plans that rely on technology for systematic control over energy consumption.
Approaches can be combined to create an effective energy reduction system, including continuous monitoring of usage, reducing and reconfiguring workspaces for higher efficiency, addressing areas of high waste, such as malfunctioning equipment, and automated control of heating, lighting, and air conditioning systems based on occupancy. Structural improvements, such as installing higher-rated insulation and energy-efficient windows, will also make a significant dent in consumption rates. At every step in the conservation process, monitoring the current levels of consumption, and comparing those levels to target levels, forms the cornerstone of a successful program. Depending on the methods you choose and the size of your organization, returns on investment can be realized within one year, with nearly all methods fully paying for themselves within two years.
Making the Most Efficient Use of Office Space
One of the simplest ways to begin reducing energy costs is to reconfigure office space for improved efficiency. Poorly designed floor plans can increase costs considerably in terms of wasted energy and rent, so addressing wasted office space can provide a high return on investment, with immediate results. The reality is that many offices are much bigger than they need to be. Workers who are seldom in their offices, such as sales and IT, may not need a large dedicated office of their own. Large conference rooms that are not booked very often could perhaps be better used in other ways. For instance, such a room could be converted into storage, which typically requires less lighting, heating, and cooling. Using portable storage equipment, such as rolling bins and easily disassembled shelves, means you can easily return the space to general office use if needed later. Hiring a space utilization consultant to come in and observe how your office space is really being used day to day can stem significant waste quickly. Surveying how you currently use your office space is the first step in managing it effectively: “If you’re not measuring it, how can you manage it?” notes Tony Booty, Sales Manager at Abintra Consulting, a leading space management consultancy, who has used Spinwave Systems products in his consulting work.
Monitoring Energy Usage
Even the most efficiently designed space can likely be maintained with fewer energy resources. To start reducing the actual energy usage of your existing space, various forms of energy management technology come into play. Two of the most important are monitoring of usage, and automated reduction of usage.
To monitor usage, submetering systems can be implemented that will give management real-time data on the amount of electricity, oil, or gas that a facility is consuming. Decision-makers can get precise information on how much energy is being used by different departments by installing an array of submeters in key areas of the building. With a comprehensive submetering system, energy usage can be continuously monitored, the first step to reducing consumption. Having these systems in place for a while provides company employees with a new level of awareness regarding their energy usage. Once employees see how much their daily activities are contributing to carbon emissions, the groundwork has been laid for a conservation program that requires their participation. The next step is establishing benchmarks against which you can set goals for energy use reduction. Once goals are set, mounting an energy-saving campaign with clear conservation goals can work wonders in cutting usage.
Depending on the size of your organization, you can do several things to bring employees on board with your efforts:
Once reduction efforts are in place, the submetering system monitors and verifies the efficacy of those efforts. The real-time energy data provided allows you to keep track of how well the effort is going, and adjust your plans to maximize effectiveness. For instance, you may find that some departments are making more progress than others in cutting back. Using that information, you can target greater awareness efforts at those departments that are lagging behind. That same real-time data can also keep the conservation momentum going when you share it with employees. For even higher employee participation, inform employees with regular updates on how close the organization is getting to its goals.
Automated Energy Management
Monitoring usage can produce important savings by itself. As noted above, it provides the necessary awareness and accountability to make voluntary conservation efforts effective. It also allows facilities management to identify HVAC equipment that is malfunctioning and replace/repair it-a vital way to stem waste due to out-of-spec equipment.
Even more comprehensive energy management is possible with the addition of automated control of heating, lighting, and cooling. Automating systems based on when a building is occupied can take the human error factor out of managing energy consumption. One of the simplest ways of doing so is to program temperature controls to turn on to full functioning only at specific times of day. This eliminates the need for employees to remember to turn off the air conditioning and lights when they leave in the evenings-forgetting to turn down controls is one of the leading causes of energy waste in buildings. Occupancy sensors add a further level of reduction. Connected to a building’s controls system, sensors ensure that heat, air conditioning, or lights turn on when staff arrive in the morning and turn off shortly after they leave at night. The efficacy of these automated control systems can also be monitored through submetering. Indeed, combining automated controls with a submetering application has produced dramatic results in curbed energy usage, generally within the first year of implementation. Depending on the size of the system, ROI is frequently realized within 10 to 18 months.
Wireless technology has made installing an automated energy management system more possible than ever. Costs have been reduced by up to 75%, due to the far lower installation expenses associated with such systems, which can be put in place much more quickly and easily than a similar hard-wired solution. In a traditional hard-wired installation, lengthy renovations are often required, often with several miles of wire needing to be pulled throughout a building. Wireless energy management systems sidestep this wiring, the single most costly portion of any retrofit. Not only are energy management systems easier to install, but the installations themselves are far less disruptive to business operations, an essential advantage for most small business. In most cases, no one needs to be moved from their office when a wireless energy management system is installed, not even for a day.
In addition to these more comprehensive measures, there are other steps that can be implemented right now for important energy savings. Daylight harvesting is one of the least often talked-about steps-yet it is highly effective. Simply open blinds to allow in more natural light and reduce your dependence on office lights. Position work areas that need to be well-lighted near large windows.
Another step that can be taken without any investment is to cut the energy wastage of PCs, other office equipment, and irrigation systems. Set computers to go into hibernate mode after a short period of inactivity, such as 15 minutes. Turn off any equipment that won’t be used that day. And re-consider whether your irrigation system truly needs to be turned on automatically twice a day-not only will you save energy, but you can save a considerable amount of water as well.
If you’ve been thinking about starting a program in your office to reduce energy usage, there are many options. Reconfiguring your office to use less space, monitoring usage via submetering alone and involving employees in reducing usage, or fully automating monitoring and usage reduction-all of these efforts can pay off in significantly reducing your energy costs and carbon footprint.
2007 Buildings Energy Data Book, US Department of Energy, 2007.
Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey. US Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, 2003.