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A Green Building Doesn’t Mean Building Green


So your new building program has been approved. You are going to use that internationally recognized architect to design a GreenStar  certified facility which you are certain will get you a 6+ rating. Ah! The accolades, the bragging rights, the energy savings. Right? Maybe.

The reality is that each building you add on campus – no matter how energy efficient – adds to your carbon footprint, unless it is a zero-energy (ZE) building or it replaces a building that used more energy. While ZE buildings may one day become the norm, we are not there yet. New campus buildings, even GreenStar 6+ certified or better, are energy hogs and are responsible for significantly increasing the size of campus carbon footprints. No amount of energy monitoring software is going to help you reduce that figure while you continue to build new buildings.

Institutions that are committed to reducing their carbon footprint need to look at new construction in a new light. For example, the way an institution uses its space is as critical an aspect of sustainability practice as GreenStar certification of new buildings, energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, co-generation, or alternate energy systems are. An institution that uses its space as well as possible is one that does not build new buildings, however green they may be, unless its mission and programs absolutley need them.  Universities can save energy dollars and reduce carbon emissions by maximizing the utilization of existing space and avoiding new construction. While it may be difficult to imagine a Vice Chancellor of a college or university knocking back new construction (since new buildings are often viewed as legacy accomplishments), that’s what is needed.

On many, if not most campuses, inefficient space utilization is the norm. The most desirable spaces may be intensively utilized and fought over while less desirable spaces are cast off and sparsely occupied. Over time, as new buildings are constructed and departments and offices move into those richly furnished, high prestige spaces, the areas they leave behind are taken over by existing personnel and offices. Over time everyone spreads out resulting in lower space density /poor space utilization. Ever greater areas are “used” while activity and output stays roughly the same. The campus “appears” to be fully maxed out and without effective space tracking and auditing technology, requests for new buildings often results.

Universities tend to suffer from structural space inefficiencies was well. Consider the academic year. For most schools it is common place to see entire campuses empty of students, faculty and programming for the entire summer . Meanwhile, staff and departmental offices are still open for business and buildings are still considered occupied for maintenance and operational puposes. Costs are still being incurred and energy is still being expended on a daily basis. This is not the way to do business – and from a sustainability perspective, we cast ourselves as being very, very poor stewards over our environment.

The inefficiency of faculty offices deserves special mention – the very professors who espouse the sustainability cause. Faculty members generally have their own offices, but these may only be utilized a few hours per week during the 15-17 week semester periods and completely unoccupied otherwise – all the the rest of 12 months being heated and cooled as a consequence so the buildings HVAC system design. That is 33% efficiency rating or lower. Again, that is no way to do business if you are in the business of reducing your carbon footprint.

Strategies for addressing poor space utilization

Each problem presents an opportunity, and as such there are many ways to take advantage of these opportuities. Of course none will be easy, but all are possible. It all depends on where you see the low hanging fruit:

1. When a new building is first proposed, first determine whether there is a way to meet the program needs for the building by reconfiguring and better utilizing existing space. If your institution does not have a Space Management and Forecasting solution, now is the time to seriously consider investing in one.

  • This will give you a base line from which to determine whether current space can be better utilized and if so how much space and energy costs can be saved.
  • If space is truly maxed out, you will have a base line from which to forecast future program need to determine future building requirements
  • The Space Management Solution will then allow you to track and monitor future space utilitization and report back to F&A on grant utilization, etc.

2. During break periods, especially major holiday break, encourage or require everyone to take vacation time and put the campus in a shutdown mode as much as possible.

  • By utlitizing the Space Management and Planing Solution you can tie into your Maintenance Planning solution so that preventive maintenance work orders can be automatically generated for equipment and spaces in areas shut down.

3. HVAC modifications can be implemented for faculty offices so these spaces stop being heated, cooled, or ventilated when unoccupied (which is most of the time).

4. If your school is committed to an enrollment growth scenario, it might be possible to accommodate many more students without new construction if you operate academic programs at full tilt year round and thus make better use of existing buildings over the summer.

  • Again, using a Space Management solution in tandem with a Room Scheduling solution and Predictive Analytics will allow you proactively plan and manage this

5. More aggressive scheduling including starting classes earlier or even on Friday afternoons can defer the need for a new building.

We can build all the GreenStar-certified, carbon-neutral buildings we want, but that’s just a drop in the bucket if we don’t do something to increase the efficiency of the billions of existing buildings in exisitence today and our start starving our edifice complex to slow us from building more – in fact, we are doing more harm than good. A building that uses energy very efficiently but is half empty most of the time is just a problem as as an inefficient , fully occupied building

Next time your VC or DVC says, “we need a new building”, I hope you’ll stop and ask yourself ,

a)      are we really sure we need a new building? Let’s look at our space utilitization.

b)      If we make changes to our buildings, can we make them as enegy efficient as possible?

Hey, its not as glamorous as planning that next new GreenStar 6+ building with Frank Gehry, but it a whole lot greener!

(C) 2012 Tony Stack

Tony is the Business Solution Manager for IBM Australia


1 Comment

  1. You are so cool! I don’t think I have read through something like this before. So good to discover somebody with a few original thoughts on this topic. Seriously.. many thanks for starting this up. This site is something that is required on the web, someone with some originality!

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