Ongoing Green Upgrades, Operations & Maintenance

The green building movement has steadily gained steam in recent years, with sustainability principles edging in from the margins to become increasingly mainstream components of new construction projects.  As the integration of green practices into buildings has gained in popularity, it has also expanded in scope, with attention increasingly being focused on upgrades and operations and maintenance (O&M) issues in existing buildings.  Because such stock represents the overwhelming majority of built space, this development is all the more significant for buildings owners/managers and the environment.  Focusing on green upgrades and O&M in existing buildings helps them meet their design potential, makes improved sustainability possible for all types of buildings, and expands the scope of building-related activities that can be approached with sustainability in mind.

Despite the impressive strides made in recent years, only a relatively small portion of new buildings are constructed with green principles in mind—estimates range from one to six percent of newly constructed floor space.  According to the U.S. Department of Energy, of the nearly five million commercial buildings in the United States that existed in 2000, 85 percent were built prior to 1990.  This means that millions of buildings were constructed before the green building movement began.  And, since even the vast majority of newer buildings have not taken full advantage of available green technologies, related upgrades and O&M practices present an opportunity for making an overwhelming percentage of these existing buildings more sustainable.

Without periodic inspection and appropriate maintenance, even the best-designed building systems can perform in a lackluster fashion.  For this reason, the tracking of these functions within existing buildings so that issues are quickly identified and remedied is critical in regard to sustainability.  In this case, green O&M practices bear a striking resemblance to what might otherwise simply be considered good O&M practices. One example of this was evident in the LEED-EB certification process undertaken in Emory University’s Goizueta Business School.  The building was chosen by the school for certification because it was only five years old and appeared to be working well, with high satisfaction among building occupants.  While going through the LEED-EB process, however, and closely scrutinizing the metering and monitoring data, it was revealed that, although the building was thermally comfortable, the heating and cooling systems were actually operating simultaneously.  After uncovering and fixing the problem, Emory expects to save over $150,000 in energy costs each year.

Ongoing green upgrades and O&M procedures also make it possible to address a broader range of building-related environmental issues.  Although there are obvious and important connections between how buildings are designed and constructed and how they will operate—a building with high efficiency systems, for example, will consume less energy—there are also environmental and health issues specific only to practiced O&M procedures.  Purchasing and recycling are vital to managing resource consumption and disposal in existing buildings.  Aside from the resources needed simply to operate buildings (which consume 30 to 40 percent of the nation’s energy and 25 percent of its water resources), massive quantities of additional products and supplies are consumed in buildings over their lifetimes.  Green O&M practices can influence what products are brought into buildings and how they are used and disposed.  By choosing green cleaning products or applying paints that are free of volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), for instance, toxins can be minimized and, along with good ventilation systems, indoor air quality can be improved.  Ultimately, it will be this combination of green upgrades and O&M practices within green design and construction that will produce the most sustainable buildings.

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Source: 1999 Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey, Energy Information Administration, U.S. Department of Energy, 2002.

Michael Arny, one author of this article, is the president of the Leonardo Academy, which he founded, and was chair of the LEED for Existing Buildings (EB) Committee during that rating system’s pilot and launch phases.  A LEED AP, he has worked on energy and environmental issues his entire career and served on the Wisconsin Public Service Commission staff for 14 years.  

The other author, Jenny Carney, LEED AP, is a program manager at the Leonardo Academy and has spent the past year working on the development of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED-EB training workshops and other LEED-EB resource materials, including the recently released LEED-EB V2.0 Reference Guide.  In the past, she has worked in the areas of terrestrial ecology/global change research and environmental program development and management.  

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