Archive for ‘Energy’

January 10, 2014

Brightworks By The Numbers | 2014 Update

by Scott Lewis, Brightworks Sustainability founder and CEO

Thanks to our ex-staffer,  great friend and lampmaker Billy Ulmer, we have updated our famous Brightworks Metrics with end-of-year 2013 data.

The results are as follows:

Metrics_01.2014

Numbers Behind the Numbers
Total Built Environment (Buildings, Campus, Master Plan, Infrastructure) Projects Completed: > 325
LEED Projects Certified >175
Total Square Footage >35 million
Total Cost $9.26 billion
Projected Impacts
Energy Cost Savings $26,056,579 per year
People We Touched in 2013 64,583 people
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Emission Savings 134,341 metric tons per year
Water (H2O) Savings 104,455,041 gallons per year
Waste Diverted from Landfills 797,325 tons

As always, our data as of December 2013 largely reflects our LEED® projects in the rating systems of New Construction, Core & Shell, Commercial Interiors and Schools. To learn more about how we think about the people we touch, read our post on the subject.

May 13, 2013

Four Hundred

By Scott Lewis, Brightworks CEO

400
this is a big deal

400 ppm is a big deal

the last time the Earth’s atmosphere had 440 ppm CO2 was over 2.5 million years ago.

the planet was 5 to 10 degrees F. warmer than it is today

“cozy,” you think.

“5-10 degrees warmer, that sounds kind of nice,” you think.

when the Earth’s average temperature was 5-10 degrees warmer than it is today, there was no Greenland Ice Sheet and the seas were 82 feet higher than they are today.

Not cool.

Not cozy.

 We can do More.

September 10, 2012

What’s the environmental footprint of your technology use? There’s no app for that.

Josh Hatch, Director of Sustainability Analytics, BrightworksBy Joshua Hatch

Director of Sustainability Analytics

Are you big into social media? Can you hardly wait for the next iPhone? And are you having trouble reconciling the environmental implications of our ever-connected society? You are not alone. If you tune into the latest environmental data from large technology firms like Apple, Google and Facebook, then you could develop whiplash from confusing numbers and competing claims.

The environmental footprint of your social and technological habits is hard to understand because most of the supply chain and infrastructure of technology companies is hidden in the “cloud” or in contract manufacturing towns. It is also hard to make sense of the net environmental impact these companies present, both positive and negative. Should we be concerned that the data centers that power all digital services are one of, if not the, fastest growing sectors of our electric grid, or placated that they are only two percent of our over-all energy use? I am speaking at Greenbuild 2012 this fall on this one issue alone.  And can social media and technology create greater openness and tools for activism that drive a broader societal awareness or corporate environmental responsibility and eventually “pay for themselves”?  It’s a muddy issue, but we can start to clarify it by identifying what the questions are today, and what will tip them in one direction or another.

The Impact of the Cloud

Google was first major technology company to get really transparent on the impact of their operations by releasing the energy usage from all of their data centers. It can only be huge, right? Actually, I was surprised at how small it was. Data centers make up about two percent of U.S. electricity use and Google’s share was less than one percent of that. Facebook more recently followed suit by disclosing their energy use and carbon footprint, and did a great job presenting some complex data and making it relatable.  In short, the carbon footprint of your annual Facebook use is about equal to the footprint of a couple glasses of wine or a medium latte.

Facebook: Sharing Our Footprint

Your Facebook carbon footprint is equal to… Image via Facebook

read more »

November 8, 2011

Good News, Bad News

Scott Lewis is founder and CEO of Brightworks

Well, the bad news is that 2010 had the highest annual net increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide ever, a 6 percent increase, with China and the US leading the pack.

2010 CO2

 

This coincides with the human population passing 7 billion people for the first time.  Not a coincidence, perhaps.

World Population Reaches 7 Billion

7 billion and going strong. Source: ngm.nationalgeographic.com

The good news is that the world is just brimming with opportunity for rapid transformation to a renewable energy economy, if only we could get those dang policy makers – the ones who make the rules about what kinds of energy get most heavily subsidized, incentivized and regulated or not regulated – to make decisions in the public interest rather than the interest of their funders.

Seriously, the good news is that when enough people clamor loudly enough for real change, the technology and resource capacity is not the barrier: Scientific American published a plan to power the whole world with 100 percent renewable energy back in 2009.  Here’s to the possibility of a future with lasting prosperity for all, just waiting to emerge.

September 13, 2011

Is Sustainability Your Known Unknown: Using Sustainability Analytics to Make Confident Business Decisions

Josh Hatch, Director of Sustainability Analytics, Brightworks

By Josh Hatch

Director of Sustainability Analytics

Confident decision-making in tumultuous times requires a thorough understanding of triple bottom line and broader sustainability impacts. Using the sustainability lens may not influence each decision in a significant way, but it will enable businesses to identify opportunities, reduce risk and effectively communicate the sustainability impacts of their operations.

Effective organizations are learning that modern business decision-making and planning requires them to look beyond sustainability as a certification, rating system, goal or even a theory. They’re embracing sustainability as a set of decision criteria and a filter to be applied to any major business dilemma. Businesses that ignore sustainability’s strategic value do so at their own risk in an era marked by volatile energy and resource prices, evolving regulatory requirements and unforeseen financial, environmental and supply chain disruptions.

Titanic vs. Iceberg

Sustainability implications for businesses often hide beneath the surface until it's too late. Image via Robert M. Williams

Here are four steps leaders in sustainability are taking to build stronger, more resilient organizations:

1.  Establish Organizational Sustainability Bearings Before Setting Your Course

The first step isn’t necessarily the hardest in addressing sustainability—there are so many opportunities for low-cost/no-cost improvements that can be pursued immediately. However, many organizations suffer from the problem of setting broader organizational priorities and launching sustainability initiatives before fully mapping the relevance and impacts of these initiatives on their business.

Without a solid understanding of the major and minor impacts and their relative proportions, sincere efforts can be made chasing relatively small gains. Metro, a regional government organization based in Portland, Oregon, enacted aggressive sustainability targets in 2003 for reductions in their major sustainability impacts—water, toxics, GHG, waste and habitat. However, they didn’t also conduct a thorough audit to develop a baseline, prioritize efforts and gauge progress toward the targets from their many programs and initiatives addressing sustainability.

Sustainability technical assistance from Brightworks ultimately provided them with the analytics to understand current sustainability impacts for each of their five goals, as well as the composition of those impacts. For instance, they targeted a water usage reduction of 50% by 2025. Our analysis identified how much water they were actually using so progress toward the target could be quantified. We discovered a single property (the Zoo) used 42% of their total water budget. Without seriously addressing water efficiency at the Zoo, the target will be difficult if not impossible to reach.

Confident planning requires this level of understanding of sustainability impacts. Major efforts should be focused on the biggest opportunities, while also ensuring appropriate attention is paid to minor, but meaningful, opportunities elsewhere in an organization. All companies need analytics to comparatively assess major and minor opportunities as well as to track their progress to justify further initiatives.

2.  Go Beyond Credentials by Applying a Sustainability Lens to All Major DecisionsBusiness Decision Making Criteria: Profitability, Marketability, Sustainability?

A few years ago, you only had to complete a GHG footprint analysis to assert your green credentials. But most of those reports just quantify the magnitude of one potential liability without providing mitigating solutions or a framework for considering the impact of future business decisions. Today, organizations must consider carbon impact and other sustainability factors in all major business decisions.

To respond to the outsized environmental footprints of their data center facilities, our clients have engaged us during site selection to consider the upfront impact on long-term water resource availability, carbon intensity of grid electricity, system development costs and green building incentives. They want to ensure their mission-critical facilities remain operational while effectively managing and limiting their resource consumption. Smart consideration of sustainability impacts at the front end of the project can result in selection of a site that has long-term water and energy security and a low carbon footprint. This reduces future risks from resource scarcity or carbon taxes.

3. Use Sustainability Analysis to Uncover Business Opportunities

This trend follows from a broader shift in perception. Not simply a static concept, sustainability is increasingly approached as a dynamic process. No longer do sustainability plans collect dust on the shelf. They must be actionable initiatives that relate to core business strategy.

The DOE Hanford Site faced federal requirements for GHG reductions across the board. Given the current traffic congestion, long commutes and rising gasoline prices encountered by their employees, they started by addressing the portion of their GHG footprint associated with commuting.

Responding to these challenges, Brightworks conducted a greenhouse gas reduction and cost savings analysis. We uncovered a future scenario so compelling that reductions beyond those required are being planned. Steps include expanding vanpooling, facilitating and promoting carpooling, condensing work weeks and relocating a significant number of employees to Hanford offices in Richland, Washington.

This combination of steps will save DOE and employees money, reduce emissions by more than twice the amount required by federal mandate and increase employee morale. The immediate savings possible will motivate Hanford Site to implement our recommendations ahead of schedule, and we expect they will look for reductions elsewhere in their operations.

4. Commit to Ongoing Improvement

Today’s sustainability leaders also continually address and re-evaluate their sustainability efforts. Consumers have a healthy amount of skepticism and insight into the legitimacy of sustainability efforts; only genuine efforts will allow your organization to avoid being seen as greenwashing. That’s why deft organizations are continually re-evaluating their business and operations for opportunities to align with sustainability practices.

After spending considerable effort renovating their event space—including energy efficiency upgrades, careful material selection and screening vendors for leadership in sustainability practices—Leftbank Annex in Portland asked Brightworks to conduct a thorough sustainability audit. They wanted to honestly assess the building’s strengths and weaknesses and identify additional opportunities for improvement.

In addition to validating their venue’s strengths, we identified creative solutions to respond to their unique constraints. For example, part of the venue’s appeal is as a historic building with original brickwork and large windows that provide a beautiful city backdrop for events. In their renovation, Leftbank Annex prioritized energy efficiency equipment, but they were limited in their ability to further insulate the building envelope. We recommended a partnership with a solar provider using third-party financing. Leftbank Annex would benefit by reducing their reliance on grid energy without compromising their aesthetic appeal, gaining a system paid for upfront by the solar developer (and paid off by energy bill reductions) and showing a visible commitment to renewable energy.

At the conclusion of our study, our client demonstrated a real understanding of ongoing improvement, stating: “Having you do an annual review, or asking for your advice before making a major investment, would probably be a very smart thing to do. Every decision we make needs to build off this foundation.”

It appears few companies today haven’t considered sustainability in some way. For many, however, sustainability remains a known unknown—something that is dismissed as irrelevant until it becomes the peril too close and large to avoid. What will separate the leaders and winners of tomorrow will be the ability to turn the demands of sustainability on their business into a known known—something that can be managed.

Companies that consider and reconsider the relationship of sustainability to their business will adapt quicker. And competitors that dismiss sustainability as extraneous or too costly will be left behind.

March 16, 2011

CALGreen: Triumphs and Challenges

Marian Thomas

By Marian Thomas

Brightworks Sustainability Advisor

On January 1, 2011, CALGreen, California’s new statewide green building code went into effect – soon followed by widespread confusion, panic (and quite possibly tears) among those responsible for securing building permits on new projects. While the actual code requirements are quite reasonable, the implementation of CALGreen appears to be another matter entirely – for building departments and project applicants alike.

Codification of green building: much ado about nothing

Many of us in the green building industry have anticipated the day when green building best management practices became codified. Green building can be interpreted in myriad ways and often suffers from misconceptions around cost and feasibility. Like other building practices, it benefits from translation into concrete, regulated codes. Building codes can demystify green strategies or practice, making them as common place as other building requirements, such as structural or plumbing codes. This eases confusion and drives down costs.

As an example, in the early 1900s engineers initially began advocating seismic design requirements or “earthquake engineering” in buildings. The first generation of researchers could barely secure funding to complete their studies — even after the devastating San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Many in the building industry believed “such discussion will advertise the state as an earthquake region, and so hurt business.” Others critics considered the early seismic engineering to be both costly and unattractive. By the 1930s, seismic engineering requirements were signed into law. Today they’re as ordinary as any other building practice in California. This legislation neither hurt nor stalled the boom in real estate and business in the state.

San Francico Earthquake of 1906

Another good reason for building code updates

CALGreen, in taking this initial first step towards integrating green building practices into code, has also encountered its share of dissension that in some ways parallels the adoption of seismic engineering requirements. Like the critics of Assembly Bill 32, opponents of state-mandated green building or energy reduction requirements that claim such legislation will harm development and discourage business from locating in the state are both near-sighted and sensationalist.

The CALGreen authors intended to create a baseline of green building across the state. This now means even smaller jurisdictions without established green building ordinances are required to, at a minimum, reduce water consumption by 20 percent, recycle construction and demolition waste, install low-emitting materials and commission buildings over 10,000 sf. CALGreen’s mandatory requirements are neither overly stringent nor onerous, particularly given the state’s existing energy code. These requirements are a solid first step toward formally establishing green building in California and potentially across the rest of the country.

Implementation: much ado about something

That’s the good news. Unfortunately, it’s not the complete picture. The multitude of ways cities are choosing to implement CALGreen is not doing green building legislation in the state any favors. Since January 1, any city can amend CALGreen as it sees fit. Beyond the mandatory requirements mentioned above, CALGreen also includes a selection of voluntary measures and “tiers” (similar to LEED and GreenPoint Rated credits) that cities are encouraged to adopt as mandatory in their own adaptations of CALGreen. These can include enhanced requirements for energy efficiency, carpool/LEV parking, water use reduction, C&D waste diversion, etc. There are countless combinations of additional requirements and amendments possible under CALGreen.

At the same time, municipalities such as San Francisco and Oakland have also retained certain elements of their previous existing green building ordinances, such as requiring LEED or GreenPoint Rated certifications for certain building occupancies. For project applicants in these jurisdictions, it’s like juggling three separate green building systems. Tracking and managing all these nuances can be both time-consuming and costly.

Many have assumed documentation for all CALGreen measures, mandatory and voluntary, would be included in the construction drawings or specifications submitted to and reviewed by the building department as part of plan check. However, what we are seeing now is that each building department can mandate its own documentation and compliance review process as well – from requiring third-party reviews, to bringing on a licensed “Green Building Compliance Professional of Record” or “Green Building Certifier” (at the owner’s expense) to sign off on the green measures in the project.

While it is valuable to allow cities the ability to set higher standards and require measures that may reflect regional priorities, the inconsistency in compliance and documentation requirements may be doing more harm than good to green building in California. This variation in the municipal implementation of CALGreen is creating confusion and a bit of pandemonium among those trying to navigate these new green building requirements. As a result, many will continue to see green building as a hurdle to overcome, rather than an accepted standard of practice.

CALGreen, the “Third Wheel”

Perhaps having a separate “green building code” makes it appear, once again, that building sustainably is an add-on – as other third-party certification programs are often interpreted. Perhaps it would have been less distressing to the building design and construction industry to instead integrate many of these “green measures” more subtly into the existing building code divisions. For instance, water use reduction targets could have easily been added to the plumbing code, and enhanced indoor ventilation requirements could have been added to the energy and mechanical code sections.

In fact, many CALGreen measures are simply repeats of existing code requirements anyway. While it doesn’t carry the same mystique or catchiness as “CALGreen,” the more subtle approach may have avoided the confusion now plaguing the building design and construction industry under the new CALGreen mandates.

Bottom line: the primary challenge posed by CALGreen will not be meeting its requirements, especially for teams accustomed to meeting LEED or GreenPoint Rated systems. The real challenge will be ensuring documentation and compliance is adhered to properly for every city, county and jurisdiction in the state.

December 9, 2010

Four 2010 Game Changers…That Didn’t

2010 held tremendous potential to be a game-changing year for sustainability. Global and local government action and economic and environmental events could have tipped the scales for or against sustainable progress…but most actions ended up as a lot of hot air.  These are our top picks for the game changers that didn’t live up to their hype in 2010 — but we want to hear from you too.  Feel free to comment and tell us your would-be signal moments for sustainability in 2010, and what you hope will change the conversation in 2011.

1.  Global Action on Climate Change

Josh Hatch, Climate Services Group Director

 

Copenhagen Climate Summit

The U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, Image courtesy of Allianz.com

A packed US legislative calendar and worldwide recession crowded out substantive action on climate action at the national and international levels. In the US, Congress was consumed by health care, unemployment, and bickering over the government taxing and spending priorities in the context of a rising deficit and lagging economy. Even though the House was able to pass the Waxman-Markey bill, the stalemate in the Senate prevented ultimate passage.

Internationally, progress on the global problem of climate change stumbled at Copenhagen. The result was the non-legally binding Copenhagen Accord — an accord that does not set either mandatory reduction targets or establish a successor to the Kyoto Protocol which expires in 2012. Perhaps the final stumbling block to national progress in 2010 was the sale and closure of the Chicago Climate Exchange, a voluntary emission trading market widely anticipated to be the predecessor to a US Cap and Trade program.

Despite top-down failures to regulate emissions of greenhouse gases, progress was seen in developing regional trading markets to control carbon emissions (i.e. Western Climate Initiative, Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative). Voters in California also upheld California’s Global Warming Solutions Act in this fall’s election, demonstrating that people do want the government to regulate carbon emissions. Progress was also seen with specific corporations that are considering carbon emission impact in decision-making, investigating risk regarding a potential future carbon tax, and discovering valuable bottom-line cost savings by reducing carbon emissions and energy use. At least in the next few years, it is clear that even without national leadership or mandate, progress in dealing with climate change is being led by the private sector and regional public sector initiatives.

2. A Democratic Congress and White House

Heath Blount, Sustainability Advisor

The 2008 election of a democratic House, Senate and White House was supposed to be a key turning point for the environmental movement, and by extension a key turning point for anyone concerned with preserving the current state of the planet.  In other words, everyone.  Some early progress like increased efficiency standards for cars and the EPA decision that greenhouse gases pose a threat to public health may have led environmental groups to grow hopeful that they could relax – the government was doing right by the environment for a change.  When progress started to slow in 2010, environmental groups that did push hard for issues like climate change were criticized by the White House for not doing enough to change the voting blocks in congress.  It is clearly a lack of political backbone on the part of Democratic operatives, and not the environmental lobby, that was responsible for capitulating on Energy and Climate Change legislation – no absence of a 60 vote majority ever stopped Republicans from passing three major tax cuts.

AB 32, Proposition 23, and CalGreen

Fortunately for California, recent battles in regulations and statewide propositions for climate change have been more successful.  Proposition 23 challenged AB 32, new California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, in this fall’s midterm election.  The proposition asked the voters of California if they wanted to stall climate change legislation until unemployment reached impossibly low levels.  This economy vs. environment argument is common, although increasingly debunked – including this report highlighting the economic benefits of the Clean Air Act. The coalition that supported AB 32 avoided the typical business vs. environment, Republican vs. Democratic, and conservative vs. liberal clichés.  Proposition 23’s defeat occurred through the efforts of a broad coalition of traditional environmental groups, clean-tech investors and entrepreneurs, small businesses, local community leaders and students, and public health advocates (such as the American Lung Association), who all saw the positive potential of the new law.  Unlikely partnerships like these led to the protection of what is now America’s most stringent law on climate change, as well as the nation’s first mandatory statewide green building code, CALGREEN.

3.  The BP Oil Spill — A wasted opportunity to promote change

Billy Ulmer, Marketing Coordinator

Gulf Coast Oil Worker and Bird

People meeting planet on the gulf coast, photo courtesy of The Epoch Times

BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill off the U.S. coast in the Gulf of Mexico dominated national media for much of the summer.  Outrage over the spill and heartbreaking images of how it impacted the local economy seemed poised to galvanize lawmakers and the public.  The result was a strong movement to enact and demand more protection for the safety of humans and wildlife, and put the complex relationships between man and nature on full display.   Darkly illustrated by the BP spill, the economy and culture of the gulf coast relies on the natural world, whether they’re mining it, fishing it, or helping tourists experience its beauty.

Unlike with many smaller events, the window for taking advantage of the public outcry  – the media spotlight — over the BP spill was months long.  The spill began in April; the leaking well was officially sealed on September 19th.  But by September, public interest and legislative momentum had waned significantly as the national agenda shifted from the Gulf’s environmental disaster to the nation’s economy and unemployment.  Environmental advocates rarely quote Machiavelli, but maybe they should: “Never waste the opportunities offered by a good crisis,” he counseled.  The BP oil spill could be the wasted crisis of the year.

4.  A Down Economy (that still couldn’t kill sustainability’s momentum)

Jared Kennedy, Director of Operations

The concept that sustainability is just a fad took a hard hit this past year. A common excuse for delaying legislation to address climate change is that it will have a negative impact on the economy. The past year was the year that put that claim to the test, and the results were to the contrary. In 2010, the total square footage of buildings following green building guidelines reached its highest total yet, even as investment dollars shifted from new construction to the vast existing buildings market.

In addition, voters in California opted to move forward with aggressive legislation requiring corporations and buildings to limit carbon emissions and cap carbon emissions at the state level. The ballot initiative aiming to delay the legislation until unemployment hit all-time lows in the state was widely rejected in November voting.  In another interesting development, a variety of large growth organizations publicly admonished the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for their attack on climate legislation during the heart of the recession.  Businesses and the public who consume their goods and services are still speaking out and acting for sustainability, proving that sustainability isn’t a fringe benefit to be sacrificed during hard times.

December 1, 2010

Are Green Buildings Keeping Pace with Climate Protection Targets?

Josh Hatch, Climate Services Group Director, Brightworksby Josh Hatch

Climate Services Group Director

In the past few years there has been a growing focus on understanding and reducing the carbon footprint of new and existing buildings. Trade publications, news articles, and corporate press releases are full of claims of massive reductions. Design firms advertise their net-zero projects, solar arrays, and advanced control systems that aim to minimize the carbon footprint of building operation. But how representative are these claims, and how does actual progress compare with the magnitude of the climate change problem? As a national leader in green building and sustainability, the City of Portland, Oregon offers new data that may shed light on where the rest of the country is headed, and whether enough progress is being made.

Over the past three years, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Portland Design Awards Competition has required that projects submit carbon calculations along with their application. The calculations are made by inputting forecast or actual energy usage information into a standardized carbon-calculation tool.  The tool determines the building’s carbon performance in comparison with both the national average for buildings of the same size and type, and in comparison with the carbon reduction target required for stabilizing the atmosphere concentration of carbon dioxide (as established by the 2030 Challenge Reduction Targets). This collected data provides a rare glimpse into the carbon performance of newly designed or renovated facilities.

The national average information for a building’s energy performance is taken from the Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS) database and converted to carbon impact. It is important to note that current building code requirements translate into a requirement that new designs demonstrate a roughly 25% improvement over the national average. The average project submitted to the competition in 2010 was 46% better than the national average, up from 33% in 2009, and up from 36% in 2008. Of the approximately 75 projects submitted each year to the design awards competition, in 2010, 28 projects demonstrated a 50% or greater improvement above the national average.  In 2009, that number was 19, and in 2008, it was only 11. Performance of at least 50% better than national average is relevant since the 2030 Challenge Target for climate stabilization was 50% prior to 2010. In 2010, the target for the next five years increased to 60%. In 2010, 16 of the submitted projects already met this higher threshold. These statistics were calculated by the Carbon Analysis Committee for the AIA Portland Design Awards Competition—a committee that I chair.

AIA Portland Design Awards Applicants greenhouse gas emissions

AIA Portland Design Awards Greenhouse Gas Data. Click to view full size.

 

This positive trend is encouraging, since it demonstrates that even in a relatively short 3-year period, the projects submitted for the AIA Portland Design Awards are showing marked improvement in reducing carbon emissions. However, it also brings up two large concerns:  There is a lag even among projects submitted for the awards in achieving the 2030 Challenge Targets for climate stabilization.  Also, many projects are still being designed and built only to the minimum code requirements. Portland’s data shows that roughly one-third of all projects submitted performance data indicating that they were at or below a 25% improvement over the national average.  Basically, the buildings were built to minimum code requirements. On the other hand, three projects were submitted this year that were carbon-neutral, proving that high performance is possible with today’s technologies and still cost-effective enough to be built during a recession.

Another indication of progress appeared in the release of the first year Progress Report for the Climate Action Plan for the City of Portland and its local Multnomah County. This is a three-year plan to put Portland on a path to achieve a 40% reduction in carbon emissions citywide by 2030 and achieve an 80% reduction by 2050. The report finds that local emissions have already dropped 15% since the year 2000.  Since 1990, a baseline year referenced in the Kyoto Protocol, local emissions have dropped 2% overall—for comparison, during the same time period, emissions nationwide rose 9%.This demonstrates that real carbon emission reductions can be achieved, even with population growth.

These two insights provide valuable information about progress in carbon reductions in buildings and communities. Although there has been a media onslaught about high performance green buildings that claim substantial carbon reductions, one should be skeptical of the US building code baseline used to calculate those reductions. Current energy code nearly guarantees a 25% improvement beyond the national average building performance.  However, only a few buildings are truly striving for or achieving carbon neutrality. It is likely that, until high performance green building achievements are no longer news, we still have a long way to go.

September 21, 2010

From Green Design to Green Operations

Eric Baxter, Brightworks Sustainability AdvisorBy Eric Baxter

Brightworks Sustainability Advisor

It’s been more than 10 years since the U.S. Green Building Council rolled out the LEED® rating system.   Now that LEED certified buildings have been operating in the real world for several years, researchers and the media are analyzing whether these buildings are living up to expectations.  One aspect of LEED projects is that they carefully model the environmental and financial savings that greener buildings should create for owners and tenants.  The question is, what happens when these buildings move from concept to reality, and how can we best manage the transition when reality presents unexpected but unavoidable challenges?

Brian Libby from the Sustainable Industries Journal recently dove into this subject, using various examples of the gap between expectations and actual performance for green buildings.  One of his data points was the LEED Platinum Certified OHSU Center for Health and Healing (OSHU CCH), which as Libby points out, hasn’t met all of the performance targets the building was designed to achieve. Brightworks CEO contributed a guest column to SIJ that gave a fuller picture of the unanticipated challenges the building faced when trying to meet its performance projections (Bridging The Gap).   Such challenges can happen with any building.  All you have to do is increase your tenant population or install some energy-intensive equipment, and the building you walk into every day is no longer the building you modeled.

So how do you keep a green building performing in the face of changing conditions?  With ongoing operational plans and policies that continue to take resource efficiency and healthy environments into consideration.

I want to expand on the discussion of  OHSU CHH as a prime example of a building that was designed to be high performance making a successful transition into a building with high performance operations.

The Lobby of the OHSU Center for Health and Healing

photo courtesy of benshead on flickr

Certainly the building was groundbreaking.  It utilized best-in-class features in its construction, from photovoltaic (PV) enabled sun shades on its south face to collecting all of its stormwater and treating 100% of its wastewater on site using a membrane bioreactor.  You can learn more about the design of OHSU CHH here. It was the first large-scale highrise healthcare facility to earn a LEED Platinum certification, and has established itself as a focal point for the University’s expansion off the main Marquam Hill campus and into the redevelopment of Portland’s South Waterfront district.

As a Sustainability Advisor, I worked with the development, design, and construction team on the project, and am now working with the building operations team in the certification effort for LEED Existing Building Operations and Maintenance (EB O&M).  It has been exciting for me to watch a building designed for high performance evolve to be even more efficient and extremely well-run. When OHSU/RIMCO first approached this project, they admitted that they were looking for a different model; one that would allow for experimentation in how to manage and maintain the building. Knowing CBRE’s expertise in that area, the owners contracted with them to operate and maintain the building . Since tenant understanding and use of building systems is crucial to the performance of any building, the building management team has been active in educating tenants. That education included what the building can do, how a green building might feel or act differently from other buildings they have previously worked in, and how their understanding and use of these different attributes contributes to its performance.

This gets to the crux of the change: Even the most high-tech, energy-efficient building might perform no better than a code-built building if it is poorly operated. Efficient operations in a green framework are critical to maximizing a building’s potential, as well as minimizing expenditures and resource uses for energy and water.  This ultimately provides operational cost savings on an ongoing basis. Since the building was turned over to CBRE’s operations team, they have worked to continually improve the operation of the building.  Their goal is to reach the operations target that the developer, Gerding Edlen, sought from the outset of the project: 50% operational energy cost savings over a standard, code compliant building.

Because of its intended use, the building faced inherent challenges in meeting this goal. Key challenges included higher medical equipment energy loads than originally anticipated, as well as a complex system design that required extensive tuning during commissioning in order to optimize performance. In the process of optimizing the building’s systems and developing a high performance operations program, the operations team has also successfully implemented an array of other green practices, from green cleaning and procurement to a building-wide recycling program.  OHSU is interested in formally adopting and receiving third-party recognition for these and other new strategies through a LEED EB O&M certification in order to cement these operational practices.  To this end, Brightworks is again working with the OHSU CHH team to develop these practices into the LEED EB O&M framework and prepare the building for this certification.

The building was also recently honored by the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) with The Outstanding Building of the Year (TOBY) Award. The CCH competed against buildings from around the world to become the first winner in Oregon.  Given the tenant-friendly and operator-friendly nature of LEED, particularly the EB O&M requirements, it should come as no surprise that five of the fourteen TOBY Award winners are LEED certified, including two LEED EB O&M certified projects. I expect to see continued interest and growth in EB O&M certifications, and I’m excited because these programs create buildings that are not only healthier for the people who occupy them,  but which reduce operating expenses for building owners and managers, and minimize their environmental impacts.

August 2, 2010

Frog Blog

Amphibians Smart.  Humans?  TBD.

That's Scottby Scott Lewis

Brightworks CEO

A popular urban legend maintains that a frog put into hot water will leap right out, but a frog put into a pot of slowly heated water will complacently languish to its unhappy demise.

While this modern parable for human folly has long been discredited by scientists – frogs indeed hop right out of  a warming cauldron – we humans, it seems, are a little less savvy than your average amphibian.  Consider:

On July 25, the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA) reported that “[w]orldwide average land surface temperature was the warmest on record for June and the April-June period, and the second warmest on record for the year-to-date (January-June) period, behind 2007.”  The monthly analysis from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, is based on records going back to 1880.

Additionally, a new NOAA analysis called “State of the Climate,” which looks at ten indicators of global temperatures, concluded that the past decade was the warmest in 150 years.  An excerpt:

“While year-to-year changes in temperature often reflect natural climatic variations such as El Niño/La Niña events, changes in average temperature from decade-to-decade reveal long-term trends such as global warming. Each of the last three decades has been much warmer than the decade before. At the time, the 1980s was the hottest decade on record. In the 1990s, every year was warmer than the average of the previous decade. The 2000s were warmer still.”

From NOAA's State of the Climate report (2010)

Congress Demurs

One might think this kind of troubling news might stir policy makers to decisive action.  The House had passed a solid energy/climate bill last summer (2009), and the Senate was driving a legislation introduced by John Kerry that would have created an economy-wide carbon cap.  But unable to muster enough support to insure victory for the Bill, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid let the legislation die in committee on July 22nd.  “We just don’t have the votes,” Reid lamented.  Ribbit.

In response to this juxtaposition of more alarming data from NOAA and congressional inaction, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote, “We’ve basically decided to keep pumping greenhouse gases into Mother Nature’s operating system and take our chances that the results will be benign — even though a vast majority of scientists warn that this will not be so. Fasten your seat belts.”

The remainder of Friedman’s column is full of some interesting and relevant information – I highly recommend it.  From Friedman:

  • The China Daily reports the country is set to begin domestic carbon trading programs during its 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-2015) to help it meet its 2020 carbon intensity target.
  • ABC News recently reported that a “heat wave, which has lasted for weeks,” has Russia suffering its worst drought in 130 years.
  • A day before the climate bill went down, Lew Hay, the C.E.O. of NextEra Energy, which owns Florida Power & Light, one of the nation’s biggest utilities, e-mailed to say that if the Senate would set a price on carbon and requirements for renewable energy, utilities like his would have the price certainty they need to make the big next-generation investments, including nuclear. “If we invest an additional $3 billion a year or so on clean energy, that’s roughly 50,000 jobs over the next five years,” said Hay.

So the next time you hear someone demean our pond-dwelling amphibious friends, remind them that at least a frog knows when to get out of hot water.  As documented previously in this space, a renewable energy, stable-climate future is within our reach.  Let’s hop to it!