How FMs are integrating sustainability initiatives into their FM operations

FM trends at Greenbuild 2015

by Alisa Griffin, LEED Green Associate, M.S. Facilities Management — December 2015 — Every year, thousands of people descend upon the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo to learn more about the latest developments in sustainability and environmentally conscious products for the built environment. Attendees can spend hours browsing the showroom floor and participating in the various plenaries on an assortment of topics. A key demographic in attendance is facility managers, and for them this year’s Greenbuild did not disappoint.

Sustainability has become an integral part of day-to-day facilities operations. Though sustainability is common place in daily operations, many facility managers still face the sometimes daunting task of making the business case to upper management for adopting and implementing more sustainable practices in their facilities. Some of the discussions at Greenbuild were centered on innovative and interesting ways some organizations and government agencies are tackling their sustainability challenges. Whether it is reducing operating costs or increasing profitability, many of these approaches can be useful tools for facility managers to build your own business case for sustainability initiatives.  Below are a few of the topics discussed at the conference that may resonate with the FM community and play a part in your business case.

Measuring, Analyzing and Reducing Plug Loads i

Plug loads are a major consumer of energy in buildings. As the office environment has evolved over the last 50 years, plug load demands have steadily increased. Though many modern electronic devices are more energy efficient than previous generations, there are significantly more of them. In a commercial office building, plug loads account for about 25% of total energy usage in buildings, according to a GSA study. The impact of plug loads on overall energy usage of a building is often overlooked and not considered in planning and design phase. Taking the steps to better understand and manage plug loads is also proving to be an effective way of lowering energy usage and costs and planning smarter.

As energy laws and regulations have become more stringent and with increased pressure to reduce operating costs, organizations are turning to electrical analyses and audits to determine opportunities to decrease energy consumption.  One opportunity, often overlooked, is plug load management. To measure and analyze plug loads, auditors use submeters and data loggers to collect electrical usage data on equipment ranging from workstations to copiers, printers and computer servers. This data is collected over a set period of time, usually one week to one month. The data is then analyzed for trends and irregularities that can be correlated to variables, such as time of day or a fluctuating number of occupants in a building. After extrapolation, the data establishes an accurate snapshot of facility plug loads.

The data from plug load assessments has traditionally been used to set up controls through timers and load sensors. These controls resulted in energy use reductions and savings. Previously overlooked, plug load measurement and analysis is now being applied to project planning and design. For instance, an accurate account of a building’s plug load can aid in sizing and specifying mechanical equipment. This eliminates the costs of over estimating mechanical needs and has the potential to save valuable square footage when smaller equipment is specified. The information gathered from plug load assessments is also being used to influence occupant behaviors through real-time energy use dashboards, signage and brochures.

“Some of the techniques for plug load measurement are simple to include as part of an energy audit or a building re-tuning effort and the results may surprise you!  It is amazing how much energy the small electronics use, especially when you add them all up. ”—Maureen Roskoski, SFP, LEED AP O&M, Greenbuild attendee

LEED Existing Buildings and the Multifamily Environment ii

After a turbulent few years, the U.S. housing market has begun to stabilize, and we are now seeing distinct trends in the rental market. As more people choose to put off buying and opt to rent longer, there is a growing demand for affordable, safe, and quality housing. Some property development and management companies have focused part of their marketing strategies on promoting sustainability-focused amenities and LEED certifications in an effort to reduce vacancy rates and operating costs. This trend looks like it will continue to grow as methods for achieving the new LEED for Existing Buildings (EB) Multifamily rating become easier for multifamily properties to implement.

In multifamily rental properties, sustainability has a unique set of challenges. The human factor is a critical component in executing any sustainability initiatives at a multifamily property. At first there is often resistance from tenants because of fears of increased rental rates to fund sustainable initiatives.  According to Jared Gigliotti, a regional manager for Vantage Management, in well-managed properties there is often no need to increase rents and explaining the benefits of sustainable efforts closes the knowledge gap and results in tenant acceptance. The number of tenants can also be a challenge from a communications and scheduling standpoint. When pursuing LEED-EB certification, 30% of units must be sampled to collect the requisite data. Often, tenants want to be present when someone is in their units collecting the data, or there is resistance to the data collection efforts. Another compounding factor is the size and layout of a property. Larger, less dense properties require more units to be sampled, and therefore more time and coordination with tenants is required to complete the data collection process.

Despite the challenges, there are many benefits to pursuing LEED-EB Multifamily and other sustainability initiatives for multifamily properties, especially from a business perspective. The LEED-EB Multifamily rating can attract more potential and long-term tenants, thus reducing vacancy rates. It can also lower operating costs across a building’s lifecycle. A LEED rating, alone or combined with other sustainable initiatives, might make the property eligible for tax incentives, grants and/or rebates from local municipalities and utility companies. From a financial and investment point of view, sustainability can attract more investors and decrease interests rates on loans.  All of these items make a good business case for pursuing sustainability, certification or not, in a multi-family environment.

“It seems USGBC has found a way to make multi-family project easily to approach for property managers, since most of the credits don’t require resident’s participation.  Additionally, better guidance on how to incorporate residence and the ENERGY STAR specification for multi-family are a plus for this certification” —Maria Fara, SFP, LEED AP O&M, Greenbuild attendee

U.S. Department of State Implements Renewable Energy Practices at Overseas Facilities iii

The U.S Department of State (DOS) Bureau of Overseas Building Operations (OBO) manages 70 million square feet of owned and leased space in over 160 countries throughout the world. These embassies, consulates and other missions must be able to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year in almost every geographical location possible, including those with considerable political, safety and infrastructure challenges. In an effort to increase energy security, reduce operating costs and strain on local infrastructure, and meet Executive Order 13693 energy goals, DOS OBO decided to pursue renewable energy sources as a way of meeting those objectives.

In the last decade, OBO has completed lighting retrofits, installed photovoltaic (PV) panels and supplemental mechanical equipment, replaced old and/or inefficient mechanical equipment, and retuned building automation systems. At the U.S. Embassy in Managua, Nicaragua, these measures have reduced energy usage by upwards of 50%. Some locations do not have access to a power distribution grid and must generate all of their power onsite, typically by continuously running diesel generators. The sites with diesel generators as their primary power source have seen substantial energy reduction savings and increased energy security from more efficient supplemental generators, PV panels and wind turbine. In some instances, these initiatives have made DOS facilities the most efficient and advanced building in their host country.

As with many renewable energy projects, funding can be a challenge. DOS has utilized three major modes of funding to implement their renewable energy project: major renovation budgets, capital budgets, and energy savings performance contracts (ESPC). For DOS, ESPCs have proven to be a successful means of funding projects across the world. An ESPC is administered by an energy savings company, or ESCO, and guarantees a specific threshold of savings. It requires no capital expenditures or appropriations from Congress. A third party capital improvement loan with a favorable interest rate is obtained to fund the costs of the project, and then the savings from energy reductions are used to pay back the loan over a set period of time. If a project does not meet its projected savings, then the ESCO is financially liable for the loan payments.

ESPCs are faring well in the public sector, but there has been much less acceptance in the private sector. Studies suggest that a lack of knowledge of ESPCs leading to lack of acceptance and inadequate transparency about project funding between ESCOs and private building owners are creating barriers to the adoption of ESPCs in the private sector. There is vast, untapped potential for energy savings in the private sector through the implementation of ESPCs. It is yet to be seen if increased awareness of public sector success with ESPCs will carry over to the public sector, but facility managers are the best advocates for ESPCs within their organizations.


Increasing environmental regulations and awareness has brought sustainability to the forefront of facility management. Adopting sustainable practices in facility management results in leaner operations, reduced environmental impact, and happier and healthier building occupants. Facility managers are key in the expansion of sustainability. Their influence on operations positions them to be champions for change and achieving operational excellence.

Greenbuild Sessions cited in this article:

i B07-A Guide to Measuring, Analyzing, and Reducing Plug Loads
ii RC1-Inviting LEED for Existing Buildings into Your Living Room
iii F02-Renewable Energy Implementation at U.S. Diplomatic Missions


Alisa GriffinAlisa Griffin works for Facility Engineering Associates, P.C. (FEA). FEA is a national consulting firm focusing on extending the life of and making improvements to existing facilities. For more information about the company, please visit

Facility Engineering Associates, P.C. (FEA)  is an engineering and facility management consulting firm supporting owners and managers of existing facilities. FEA was founded in 1992 on the principle that there is a better way to manage the built environment by balancing the challenges of providing a safe, secure, and healthy environment; maintaining an aging infrastructure; and improving how the FM organization operates. We help our clients improve the way they manage, operate, maintain, and fund the built environment to enable facilities that are safer, healthier, resilient, productive and cost-effective.

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