Even the most sustainably designed and operated commercial buildings depend to an extent on the behavior of those who occupy them. While programs to incentivize occupants to act more sustainably can often become complicated and expensive (like direct subsidies for transit use), one of the easiest ways to decrease the environmental impact of human activity associated with a building is to simply publicize information that already exists.
Whether inspired by an increased level of awareness or a kind of competitive altruism, this article explores how providing sustainability guides to building tenants and occupants about their energy use, purchasing practices, and transportation habits can substantially improve the operations of a building and decrease its emissions and waste impacts at almost no cost to building owners and managers.
Increase the Transparency of Building Energy Use Information
Since you already have information about your buildings’ energy use, how can you optimize it? According to the 2012 BOMA report Working Together for Sustainability: The RMI-BOMA Guide for Landlords and Tenants, simply informing occupants of their current energy usage can reduce energy consumption by 10-15 percent. If your building has tenant-level metering, report results to your tenants regularly. If your building does not have tenant level metering, be on the lookout for projects that provide an opportunity to add it.
According to the report, plug and process loads typically account for 30-35 percent of the total electricity used and are one of the largest and fastest-growing electric end uses in the United States. Energy reduction efforts related to plug and process loads can be challenging since they are not typically viewed as integral building systems and are not addressed by building codes. Additionally, the usage intensity varies depending on occupant behavior, such as how often people turn off their computers or use the printers. However, relatively low-intensity programs to engage occupants in their energy use habits can achieve savings.
BOMA recommends that to reduce the energy used by plug and process loads, building occupants may first inventory their existing equipment, such as computers, monitors, copiers, and kitchen appliances, and then determine if they are using the most efficient versions of that equipment. In some cases, upgrading to a newer model may result in significant energy savings. Procurement and purchasing plans should be updated regularly to include the most efficient technology that is available. For example, a purchasing plan can be easily revised to include language that requires equipment and appliances to be replaced by its more efficient versions at the end of its useful life. When implemented, such plans do not require any additional expenditure and, in the case of multi-tenant buildings, shift the responsibility on the tenant rather than the facility manager.
It is also likely that by bringing awareness to individual tenants’ energy use practices, they more likely will consider their energy use implications on a larger scale. If they need to renovate or fit-out a space, knowledge of energy use practices transfers to larger, long-term decisions about the use of a space and contributes to the improvement of a building over time.
Provide Purchasing Guidance
As referenced in the section above, a good way to encourage good tenant purchasing practices is to provide a purchasing guide for tenants that includes efficiency and sustainability specifications. Tenants can incorporate such information in their procurement of ongoing consumables, durable goods, electronic equipment and other items being purchased. To start, a facility manager may choose to reference the purchasing specifications included in the LEED for Operations and Maintenance building standard.
Provide a Commuting Guide for Tenants
The phenomenon of adjusted behavior in response to information about an individual’s (or group’s) actions does not only apply to building energy use. The way an occupant travels to and from a building is easy to disregard when considering whole-building sustainability. However, facility managers are in a unique position to address transportation habits and thus reduce the emissions associated with visiting and using a building.
In cities and higher-density urban areas, facility managers may be able to leverage surrounding transit systems by providing information about local bus routes, ride share programs, or subways. Posting bus schedules or providing an online, building-wide ride share group may be enough to motivate individuals to travel in a different way. Ultimately, these small changes in transportation behavior can have a big impact in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the use of a building.
As another example, a credit within the LEED rating system requires the project manager (or facility manager) to survey occupants about their mode of travel to and from a building with the knowledge that single-passenger vehicles are used by most commuters and are a primary source of US air pollution. With this information, the rate at which occupants use (or do not use) alternative transportation options (e.g., walking, biking, taking the bus or subway) can be determined. If desired, this information can inform an alternative transportation program according to a combination of education, basic support, and direct strategies.
However, one does not need to use a high level of time and resources to provide education about alternative transportation options in their area and reduce the number of occupants who only use single-passenger vehicles. Simply showing the survey results to building occupants in a way that aggregates their transportation behavior presents new information about a very familiar topic and may in itself cause individuals to reflect on their own habits. Note that free online survey tools can operate as a powerful way to quickly and easily collect data and generate sharable graphics and analytics. Specifically, this commuting information may be shared on the building website or through electronic communications and newsletters.