U.S. Office Buildings Need to Get Smart, New Study Says

U.S. Office Buildings Need to Get Smart, New Study Says

Despite rapidly developing technology to support and manage facilities, office buildings in the U.S. are falling behind the curve when it comes to adopting smart solutions that can ramp up energy efficiency and other aspects that affect costs, occupants' comfort and productivity, according to new research from IBM.

Building systems have largely remained rooted in the past, even though the people who occupy them have come to expect increasingly smarter technology in the tools and equipment they use, IBM found in its Smarter Buildings Survey. Results of the research are being released today.

The findings are based on responses from 6,486 adults, who participated in IBM's online survey earlier this month and work full or part time in 16 major U.S. cities.

The survey questions covered building automation, security, elevator reliability and conservation practices by the company and individuals.

Here are highlights of what the office workers told IBM:

  • 88 percent work full time; more than three-quarters of the people surveyed work in downtown areas; 80 percent work in buildings that are more than 9 years old (overall, 23 percent said their buildings are more than 40 years old; 57 percent 10 to 40 years old; and 20 percent, less than 10 years old).
  • Some automation basics are in place -- for example, a strong majority said  security systems are badge-controlled in their buildings -- but less than a third said their facilities take the systems to the next level.
  • 27 percent said their buildings automatically adjust lighting and temperature based on occupancy.
  • Just a third said their buildings are environmentally responsible.
  • 14 percent said their buildings use renewable energy sources.
  • Elevators are so poorly coordinated and unreliable in office buildings that respondents collectively wasted the equivalent of 125 years in the past 12 months by being stuck in elevators or waiting for one.

Similar to findings in other studies of green behavior, participants in the IBM research said they're happy to help make things better -- as long as those efforts don't jeopardize their comfort and they are rewarded for their efforts

Here are the numbers on those responses:

  • 79 percent said they conserve resources such as water or electricity as part of their regular routine at work
  • 65 percent are willing to help redesign their workplace to make it more environmentally responsible.
  • 80 percent are willing to share resources with other buildings as long as it does not affect their comfort level.
  • 75 percent said they are more likely to conserve if they are rewarded.

IBM also took a look at responses geographically and found Los Angeles came out top -- reflecting a recent EPA study based on the number of Energy Star buildings in major metro area -- when participants were asked whether they consider their office buildings to be environmentally responsible. Those opinions were also weighed against the participants' responses to questions about building systems and green practices.

San Francisco, Boston and Atlanta also drew responses that trended favorably regarding environmental responsibility of work facilities -- but responses from workers in the remaining 12 cities placed those areas solidly in average to low rankings.

Florence Hudson, IBM's Energy & Environment executive in Corporate Strategy, said the results highlight strong opportunities for her company to help businesses make their building systems more intelligent -- and help business leaders make smarter decisions about managing their buildings to yield energy and cost savings and increase the comfort, safety and productivity of their workforce.

The research serves as a market study for IBM, which through acquisitions, strategic collaborative efforts and business partnerships, is working to strengthen its position as a market leader for green solutions by leveraging itself as a powerhouse in systems integration, as well as data analysis and modeling. Though that campaign is relatively new in the buildings arena, the strategy resonates across IBM's lines of business and its Smart Planet initiative.

Hudson said her firm hopes the survey findings spur companies as well as cities to bring their buildings up to date and prepare them for what are expected to be growing demands for energy efficiency and a future of broadly networked operations. IBM also anticipates that member companies in the Green Sigma Coalition her firm established last summer will see the value proposition posed by the survey results.

"At IBM, we're approaching opportunities as families, that's very transformational," Hudson said, alluding to the precedent for collaboration her company set in forming the coalition.

Those opportunities are expected to multiply with federal money available to stimulate development and adoption of smart technology and energy efficiency solutions -- and the long-awaited rebound of the domestic and global economies.

In recent studies, Lux Research predicted that the green buildings market will grow from a current $144 billion to $277 billion in 2020, and the Continental Automated Buildings Association forecast significant growth in the systems market, pegged at $20 billion in 2009, over the next five years.

A white paper on the Smarter Buildings Survey is available from IBM (pdf).

Image CC licensed by Flickr user Gideon Tsang. Chart courtesy of IBM.