Making buildings the next great climate project

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Shrinking the carbon footprint of the physical spaces where we live and work.

This article is sponsored by Dalkia.

Let’s face it — we’re in a climate crisis that’s upending the earth’s natural ecosystems, impacting our communities and stressing our economies. To slow and reverse these daunting trends, it’s inevitable that we will need to change our consumption behavior. The bulk of GHG emissions come from companies, so businesses will have to take a leadership role in accelerating a positive change.  

Fortunately, there is growing demand for corporate environmental advocacy, from shareholders to employees to C-suite executives. Environmental, social and governance (ESG) reporting is on the rise, setting a more even playing field to gauge company’s relative environmental impacts. Cross-industry collaborations are gaining traction, including organizations such as RE100 that bring together more than 200 corporations committed to procuring 100 percent renewable energy. A recent report from the American Wind Energy Association and Wood Mackenzie predicts that in the coming years, many more corporations are expected to follow these early leaders. Tackling energy generation — a leading source of greenhouse gas emissions — has become the yardstick for corporate sustainability efforts of companies across the globe.

Unfortunately, even as clean energy’s share of generation grows, it’s not growing fast enough to dramatically reduce current levels of GHG emissions. In the United States, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that only 17 percent of electricity was generated from renewable sources in 2018.

Now is the time for the private sector to take their efforts one step further and focus on the next big opportunity for climate action: shrinking the carbon footprint of the physical spaces where we live and work.

Buildings: The next frontier

Buildings represent nearly 40 percent of global emissions. If there’s a change to be made, this is where we need to start. The organizations that take action over their energy operations will see measurable and long-term benefits. Leading businesses already know they need to reconsider the buildings they occupy, how they operate and how to invest in efficiency.

We’re starting to see an uptick in advocacy around energy productivity — the Climate Group’s global EP100 initiative in partnership with the Alliance to Save Energy has signed 50 major businesses to dramatically reduce the carbon emissions created by buildings. Although this progress should be celebrated, there are lesser-known, powerful opportunities to employ building-level actions that significantly can reduce carbon emissions regardless of the space.

Narrowing the gap between supply and consumption can allow businesses to simultaneously meet their sustainability goals while reducing energy costs and improving bottom-lines. Better yet, these solutions can be deployed quickly with limited investment of time and money. Incentive and reward programs for energy efficiency and cogeneration systems are readily available from utilities, clean energy trusts, government-lead grant programs and additional sources that can support the optimization of building energy systems across the country.

Thinking holistically: The whole is greater than the sum

The baseline of any corporate strategy depends on knowing where you are in order to determine where you’re trying to go. Similar to considering organizational design, companies should approach their buildings as living and breathing systems with many interdependencies. Every space, system and employee needs to be considered when reorganizing a building’s total energy footprint.

If I’ve learned anything over the course of my career specializing in optimizing the energy system of buildings, it’s that executive teams need to take a holistic approach when developing their strategy to reduce building-related carbon emissions.

At Dalkia, it’s our view that companies that want to lead the energy transition need comprehensive services from partners that can make their buildings more intelligent and efficient, while simultaneously balancing their energy supply, demand and on-site generation. We’ve seen companies around the world that are vocalizing their need for fully integrated, energy managed services for their buildings.

To every customer interaction, we look to bring added value of streamlined access to all of the affiliates of our parent company, EDF Group. This includes Aegis Energy, Dalkia’s provider of electricity and thermal energy to facilities through combined heat and power; EDF Renewables to evaluate the installation of on-site solar, wind or battery storage; and EDF Energy Services, an expert in electricity, gas and load management procurement through the U.S. energy markets.

With this full suite of services offered through a single point of contact, the business community will be better equipped to carry the torch for carbon emissions reduction. Understanding the synergies that lie within a variety of energy solutions can allow businesses to make the best informed decisions to improve the climate impact of a national portfolio or an individual building.

Changing old behaviors — and old equipment

In an increasingly digital world, technology allows us to get a granular view of how energy is used and when it is most expensive to consume. Having a clear picture of the inside of buildings will open doors as to how to use energy more intelligently. By leveraging artificial intelligence and automation tools to make energy-saving decisions, buildings can maximize energy efficiency without sacrificing comfort or disrupting day-to-day business operations.

That being said, human expertise has a large role to play in reducing carbon footprints. To quickly and effectively reduce energy demand, trained professionals that understand the process of upgrading building systems such as lighting, HVAC and controls effectively can deploy the monitoring, control and software required to streamline operations. With technology and expert human insight, any company can become an energy evangelist.

Reaping the rewards

By investigating the benefits that intelligent energy consumption can offer in the form of lower electricity and fuel costs, buildings can reap the rewards of long-term efficiency and GHG-reduction dividends for decades to come. There is a strong impetus to make sustainability a priority as cities and states across the country release progressive climate legislation that mirror the targets set out by the Paris Agreement. Building owners will need to take regulation into account when future-proofing their operations, especially for spaces with high foot traffic and occupancy rates that require electricity around the clock.

This also should be a consideration for supply chains or manufacturing lines that require uninterruptible power in order to maximize operational efficiency. On-site generation from cogeneration or renewables paired with energy storage can provide resiliency that allow buildings to become autonomous by producing their own power without releasing an exorbitant amount of carbon emissions.

It’s time to take charge over the energy that allows our spaces to thrive and requires a holistic approach to ensure that all buildings can become leaders in the climate movement.