How Companies Can Make Buildings Greener and Better

How Companies Can Make Buildings Greener and Better

The need for global efficiency within buildings – one of the largest generators of greenhouse gases in the world – has been recognized for quite some time.

Over the last several years, our industry has been actively greening both commercial and residential buildings, in order to mitigate the environmental impact of building and managing these structures.

These actions include a wide variety of voluntary programs and evolution of building codes and standards, enabled by technology and interoperability standards and protocols.  In addition to programs aimed at improving building design and construction, there is also a proliferation of building metrics, building labeling, and benchmarking programs, aimed at validating the actual performance of “better buildings.”

All of these combined actions are synergistic, with new ideas, standards and programs emerging every year, as our industry uncovers new strategies and overcomes complex obstacles to whole building performance and lifecycle optimization. 

Though there have been multiple approaches to helping buildings implement practical and measurable solutions, one of the most effective and widely sought-after approaches has been gaining certification through industry standards for energy efficient buildings.

It is essential for companies to be proactive in shaping and implementing voluntary initiatives, code development and standard evolution in order to accelerate the pace and pave the path for high performance green buildings of tomorrow. This is both a business decision and a principled one, but only by practicing what we preach are we able to gain valuable insight into our overall energy management, which when added up, makes a difference in how the whole system works.

Today’s Standards

Perhaps one of the best known green building initiatives is a voluntary certification program developed by the U.S. Green Building Council known as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification program. This voluntary program started in 1998 and today consists of nine rating systems in design and construction, development of new buildings, and retrofit and operations of existing buildings. It is a dominant catalyst in both in the U.S. and worldwide with more than 35,000 projects currently participating in the LEED system in 91 countries.

This year, two additional global building initiatives were introduced to the market: the ZigBee Building Automation Standard and the ISO 50001 certification program. These most recent initiatives demonstrate the dynamic nature of the market and the continued need for development of program standards of many different types that help builders and owners translate high performance and sustainable buildings goals into practical and actionable measures on the ground. All three programs meet different needs in the market, but they all have the same goal –helping owners and builders develop energy-efficient buildings.

The ZigBee Building Automation standard, announced just a few months ago, addresses a specific challenge for high performance buildings: how to ensure interoperable, secure, and reliable monitoring and control of building systems. It is the only BACnet-compatible wireless mesh network standard for commercial buildings, is vendor-neutral, and can ultimately be used to help organizations contribute toward LEED credits. BACnet is an ASHRAE, ANSI and ISO standard protocol that enables communication between building automation and control devices independent of service. BACnet’s open and nonproprietary protocol enables easy expansion and integration, and because it began development in 1987, is a widely-deployed system. ZigBee enables new green buildings or retrofit of existing buildings to green buildings by providing pervasive sensing and control in places costly to wire, such as the living space.

ISO 50001 provides management strategies and systems to increase energy efficiency, reduce costs and improve energy performance within a single building, or across many buildings. It aims to solve the energy dilemma on a non-technological level: that is, ensuring that management policies and practices account for energy efficiency metrics and that senior decision-makers are involved in the energy management process. Not only does this give organizations a consistent and overarching framework for continual improvement, but it also provides that across the entire organization, regardless of location or function. The involvement of an organization’s senior executives also demonstrates commitment and accountability to strategic energy efficiency initiatives.

How Can Companies Help?

Companies today play a crucial role in helping to develop and promote these initiatives, whether voluntary or regulatory in nature. For example, through our participation in USGBC LEED, ZigBee Building Automation Standard, and ISO 50001, we have identified a few key factors in helping to promote and deploy these standards with customers:

  1. Early participation in the development of standards or voluntary initiatives
  2. As new technologies emerge and the industry evolves, continuous engagement in programs to enable improvements
  3. Active implementation of programs, codes, and standards within our own buildings, and our products and solutions
  4. Collaboration with customers and solution channels to ensure open standards are adopted in the market, and that all green buildings initiatives are yielding the anticipated value in terms of validated operational performance over time

The early involvement in developing standards is a key factor in ensuring in-depth understanding that can then be applied to on-the-ground deployment. For example, Schneider Electric’s global headquarters located in France that houses 1,800 employees was the first building in the world to be certified ISO 50001 compliant. The certification of a company’s own building sends a strong signal to its customers and partners that the company believes in the viability, influence and robustness of the standard and has an ongoing commitment to making it a success. In the future, Schneider Electric expects to have additional buildings certified in the ISO 50001 standard, demonstrating further commitment to the standard.

Schneider has also embraced the USGBC and was one of three key players in the development of the updated LEED Demand Response Pilot Credit announced earlier this year. Originally launched in 2010, the revised guidelines aim to increase participation in automated demand response programs and were developed in conjunction with Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, Schneider Electric and Skipping Stone. This credit also contributes to LEED certification.

Only through the cooperation of industry, government and consumers can we launch and drive widespread adoption, voluntary or otherwise, of these transformational programs that pave the way for making all buildings high performance, sustainable structures. We believe open standards are the key to enabling deeper performance improvements and to widespread adoption. For example, a global alliance of major building automation companies brought the ZigBee Building Automation Standard to fruition. 24 companies that span different manufacturing sectors and sizes have undertaken pilots under ISO 50001. ISO 50001 is projected to have a huge impact on the world’s energy use – an estimated 60 percent of organizations are anticipated to be positively impacted by the initiative – all by giving multinational organizations a single, consistent, way to integrate energy management into their business operations. 

We believe that collaboration between businesses, academia and governments is crucial to addressing the energy dilemma the world faces today. Over time, these collaborations will help to make buildings better. By better, we mean not just more efficient and advanced, but easier to run, cheaper to maintain and provide occupants with a better end user experience.

Mike Bielby, Schneider Electric’s director of buildings laboratory offer management, and Barry Coflan, the senior vice president of offer management for the company’s buildings business, contributed to this post.