How to Get the Most Out of Your High Performance Building

Improving building systems performance has the attention of the corner office and the Oval Office with good reason. Energy prices continue to rise. The economy is still sluggish. Organizations are focused on doing more with less, improving productivity, shrinking their environmental footprint and spending scarce capital budget dollars in ways that will provide the best return on investment.

Enterprises of all kinds are beginning to recognize the enormous opportunity that addressing underperforming buildings offers. After all, buildings account for about 72 percent of total U.S. energy consumption and a large share of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

Using high performance building standards to design new buildings, improve existing buildings and operate all buildings is the best way to turn buildings into value-adding assets, rather than just expenses, and reduce their environmental impact. High performance buildings are energy and water efficient. They use durable, non-toxic materials that are high in recycled content. They preserve natural areas on their sites and restore damaged ones. And they use non-polluting, renewable energy to the greatest extent possible.

The Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) estimates that energy expenses amount to 29 percent of the total operating costs for a typical commercial building. Building owners and operators can reduce their energy costs by 20-25 percent per year by taking a high performance building approach, according to the USGBC. But cost savings only scratch the surface of the full potential of high performance buildings, which also improve the efficiency and productivity of their occupants and help enterprises achieve their primary missions.

High Performance Buildings Improve Organizational Performance

tiaa cref hqHigh performance buildings are designed and operated to meet specific standards for energy consumption, water use, system reliability and uptime, environmental performance, indoor air quality, noise levels, occupant health and comfort, and other mission essential factors.

Operating standards are set, measured and continually validated to deliver established outcomes within specific tolerances. The standards vary depending on an organization's mission. For example, a hospital would likely set different acoustical and indoor air quality standards than a school, which would have different standards than an office building or factory.

TIAA-CREF embraced high performance building concepts to improve energy and environmental performance, increase reliability and enhance return on investment at its world headquarters in New York (pictured at right).

By installing a state-of-the-art chilled water system, innovative rooftop thermal storage unit and other energy conservation measures, the company was able to save an estimated $765,000 in annual energy and operating costs, reduce carbon emissions by 6.1 million pounds and achieve a 25 percent internal rate of return on incremental spending, without sacrificing valuable rental space in the building.

The business improvement potential of high performance buildings is well documented. A 2009 Michigan State University study found that workgroups moving into Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified offices boosted their productivity. The Center for Healthcare Design (CHCD) concluded that hospitals that do a good job monitoring and controlling their facility's physical environment achieve better patient outcomes. And numerous studies show that students in high performance schools tend to have higher test scores and fewer absences than those in conventional schools.