Taking a holistic, whole-building approach to sustainability

January 27, 2016 Dana Schneider

There’s no debating it – everyone agrees we need to reduce the amount of energy currently used by US cities and their buildings. After all, according to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, US buildings consume 41% of the nation’s total energy use through utilities like lighting, heating and elevators. That figure surpasses an alarming 70% percent in large urban centers such as Chicago and New York. That’s an awful lot of energy!

To begin addressing this monumental issue, HBR outlines the Rocky Mountain Institute’s partnership with Retrofit Chicago’s Commercial Buildings Initiative, a public-private partnership to promote and support energy efficiency among commercial and institutional buildings. The partnership’s aim is to develop an industrialized approach to the building retrofit process that can be implemented across multiple buildings simultaneously, allowing for the capture of economies of scale.

While an industrialized and scaled approach to the building retrofit process is appealing and puts the United States on the right track toward meeting its sustainability goals, it’s important that we take a holistic approach to energy management as well. Since each building and its systems and occupants are unique, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach that will work for all buildings. In order to target or achieve deep energy retrofit savings in the 30% to 50% and even greater range,  we need to dig deep and holistically diagnose each building’s unique situation before applying a blanket, industrialized approach.

A design-centered, holistic approach to a retrofit, in which all the interactions in a building’s envelope, systems, controls, occupants, capital plans, and investment strategies are considered, will yield substantially higher energy savings. In fact, retrofits of this type aim for energy savings upwards of 50%, saving building owners a lot of money and delivering quantifiable return on investment while significantly slashing their carbon footprint.

This whole building approaches requires whole building audits, which entail examining the current building and its full systems operations, including occupant needs. Whether monitoring equipment or conducting building occupant surveys, these audits will account for the broader range of building systems and human behaviors, providing a fuller, integrated picture of how the building functions, as well as areas for energy improvement.

Interested in taking a holistic, whole-building approach to your building’s energy management to achieve optimal results? The following is an outline of the steps to be taken with the right partner, that need to be achieved for an Integrated Energy Retrofit:

  1. Triage your building portfolio based on renovation cycle/portfolio strategy.
  2. Create a Sustainability Master Plan including retrofit projects, design standards, lease structure changes, tenant energy management programs, marketing initiatives, employee programs and corporate strategy.
  3. Commit to an integrated, whole-building approach: conduct whole-building audits rather than single measure projects.
  4. Require performance guarantees with ongoing measurement and verification of savings to reduce risk and maintain performance.
  5. Engage tenants, employees, building occupants and vendors in energy savings efforts through training, tools and technology.
  6. Continue to improve by creating the proper culture and processes.
  7. Promote and reward success.

Although your building may be old, it doesn’t have to operate as if it is. Taking a holistic, whole-building approach to greening your building will not only save you significant dollars in both the short and long-term, it will also go a long way towards reducing your building’s – and ultimately the country’s – carbon footprint. And that’s something we can all feel good about!

Find out more about JLL's own Energy and Sustainability team, and how they can help your building. 

About the Author

Dana Schneider

Dana Robbins Schneider co-leads JLL’s Energy and Sustainability Projects division with Jessica Bollhoefer. Ms. Schneider leads the team that implemented a whole-building deep energy retrofit of the Empire State Building, and continues to lead energy and sustainability initiatives based on ROI and performance improvement. She recently achieved LEED EBOM Gold certification for the most famous office building in the world. JLL, as the leader of the integrated energy retrofit process and this major initiative, uses a groundbreaking analytical model for maximizing energy and environmental value per dollar spent, which she was instrumental in developing. This energy optimization process has been replicated in over 100 buildings across the US and is informing state and national policy.

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