Sustainable Building Operations: A New Way Forward

Sustainable Building Operations: New Approaches to Leapfrog the Impasse

In my book Reinventing Green Building, I documented that existing building upgrades are increasingly bypassing LEED in favor of a more concerted focus on energy efficiency improvements.  For example, new LEED project registrations for existing buildings fell almost two-thirds from 2011 to 2015, to about 600 annually, about 0.01% (1 in 10 thousand) of the 5.5 million existing buildings. LEEDv4, in effect since the first of November is likely to depress this number even more, since the number of prerequisites increased from seven in LEED 2009 to eleven in the new version, adding cost, complexity and more “gotcha” requirements.

Partly to address this market failure, the UK’s BREEAM system opened up a US operation in June, 2016 to offer its “Building in Use” certification to owners who don’t want to use LEED. However, based on my experience running the now decade-old Green Globes operation in 2014 and 2015, it’s not at all clear that this initiative will expand the market for certification much beyond today’s numbers.

As a result, we’re likely to fall way short of our need for energy and carbon reductions from existing buildings by relying on certification programs alone. What can be done?

In a recent presentation to a business audience in Eugene, Oregon, I presented a new opportunity: use the power of Big Data analytics, cloud computing, and the Internet of Things to leapfrog the impasse, by cutting costs dramatically and radically simplifying the list of things that we should care about.

The building automation market now offers the opportunity to inexpensively measure, track and improve Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for sustainable building operations.

The building automation market now offers the opportunity to inexpensively measure, track and improve Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for sustainable building operations.

What I advocate is that we need to develop a new set of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that help us achieve our overall sustainability goals. From my viewpoint, the sustainability KPIs, things that really matter, are five in number:

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for sustainability should be few in number and should track progress toward zero impact from building operations.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for sustainability should be few in number and should track progress toward zero impact from building operations.

1.     Energy Use, measured against a goal of zero net energy for all new buildings and 50% reductions from 2003 levels for all existing buildings (the "2030 Challenge" for buildings).

2.     Total Carbon Emissions, including Scope 3 emissions, as defined by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, with a goal of zero net carbon emissions.

3.     Water Use, with European best practices as a baseline for urban projects.

4.     Waste Generation, using “zero waste to landfill” as the goal for building operations.

5.     Sustainable Purchasing, with the goal initially of 100% sustainable purchasing of office products.

With these goals in mind, building owners should turn their attention to using readily accessible and relatively inexpensive Big Data platforms to track their progress toward success in meeting sustainability KPIs and to report this progress to all stakeholders.

With this approach, sustainable building operations can be done cheaply, with results honestly measured and reported. We can then take aim at a “Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal” (BHAG) of 50% of all buildings meeting advanced goals by 2030, instead of the 5% to 10% that our current path indicates is the most likely outcome.

What do you think? What are your sustainability KPIs? How should we move forward? What role would or should third-party certification play in meeting these goals?