Web Exclusive: Track Occupant Activity, Reduce Energy Use

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This Web Exclusive article is contributed by John T. Anderson, president and CEO of PeopleCube, a provider of workplace, resource, and energy management technology. The company is headquartered in Framingham, MA.

Improve Image and Reduce Costs By Measuring and Reducing Energy Consumption
By John T. Anderson

The concept of the “green” organization has finally been embraced by corporate America. Until now, companies have been able to avoid implementing green initiatives due to concerns about cost and feasibility. However, recent social, political, and economic developments have made environmental issues something that companies can no longer afford to ignore.

The impact that eco-friendly policies have on the corporate image are only expected to increase as consumers become increasingly discerning about from whom they will buy, as investors look for socially responsible firms to invest in, and as job candidates factor environmental issues into their employment decisions. Following environmentally friendly practices may no longer be simply a nice differentiator but rather a key area of competitive advantage, as companies jockey to gain market share, increase the value of their stocks, and attract and retain top talent. According to a survey by IDC [a subsidiary of the International Data Group], 50% of consumers consider the green practices of vendors when making purchase decisions. Similarly, Adecco, a Melville, N.Y.-based provider of workforce solutions, reports that “33% of employees would be more inclined to work for a company that is environmentally conscious. More than half of the respondents thought their company should be doing more.”

As the topic of environmental conservation continues to gain momentum, more stringent environmental mandates will likely be put into place in the not-too-distant future, and organizations will need to address them. The Kyoto Protocol, for example, is an amendment to the UN international treaty on climate change that legally binds countries to cut their carbon dioxide emissions by an average of 5% below their 1990 levels or pay penalties. Since buildings currently account for a large percentage of total energy consumption in the U.S., it is anticipated that any future U.S. energy regulations designed to comply with the Kyoto Protocol will likely include guidelines for heating and air conditioning the workplace.

Given skyrocketing energy costs, it’s now becoming too expensive for companies to continue consuming energy at their current rates. But the alternative of going green can also be expensive and time consuming, such as the construction of Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED)–certified buildings. Facility managers (fms) and corporate management recognize that it is time to explore cost-effective, environmentally friendly alternatives that will not only pay for themselves in the long run, but will also help companies to reduce costs in the near term.

The first step organizations interested in becoming more environmentally friendly need to take is awareness. They need to know what their carbon footprint is in order to make adjustments and track the results of those changes. A company’s carbon footprint can be determined through reports as well as via real time emissions dashboards. Space utilization and green reports, for example, highlight actual real estate and workspace utilization and energy cost/consumption. This data is then compared to potential cost and carbon savings through energy reduction measures such as only cooling or heating rooms only when they are in use.

Other reports to identify energy usage include a telecommuting analysis report, which calculates carbon emissions that can be saved by reducing commuting, and a videoconferencing report that identifies energy savings achieved by avoiding travel. An emissions dashboard management information system collects all information about the energy usage of a building and its occupiers, calculates the energy costs and the resulting carbon footprint of the facility, and presents the data in a dashboard format so it can be viewed by fms, executives and employees.

Once companies have determined their carbon footprint, how can they become environmentally responsible in a cost-effective way? Here are some practical suggestions:

Only heat (or cool) when you need to: Energy consumption has become a tremendous drain on our natural resources. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy website, “HVAC [heating, ventilation and air conditioning] accounts for 40% to 60% of the energy used in U.S. commercial and residential buildings. This represents an opportunity for energy savings using proven technologies and design concepts.”

Fms can greatly reduce office energy consumption and costs by integrating automated resource scheduling technology with HVAC systems or building management systems (BMS). For example, using scheduling systems, users can not only book a meeting room but also preset the temperature and lights. By automating this function, fms can ensure that heating/cooling and lighting is only used when the room is being occupied. To minimize the energy drain, managers can choose to reuse certain rooms that have already been cooled or heated and to “hibernate” others that have not yet been temperature controlled. Fms can then monitor and make adjustments to their buildings’ energy consumption through carbon emission dashboards.

Managing alternative workspace can play a vital role in reducing real estate costs.

Managing alternative workspace can play a vital role in reducing real estate costs.

Share workspace: Many strategically oriented organizations are using flexible work practices to cut down on energy consumption and promote work/life balance. Office hoteling (also known as virtual offices, hot desking, flexible workspace, and shared workspace) is an alternative workplace arrangement where employees are assigned workspace on an as-needed basis. Because employees are only in the office periodically, office hoteling reduces real estate and energy requirements as well as commuting related carbon emissions. The cost savings of office hoteling are substantial for companies and employees alike.

In order for office hoteling to be successful, it is critical that the scheduling process be fair and easy and that employees can obtain the space and resources they need. Automated scheduling systems allow remote employees to reserve shared workspaces (e.g., individual offices, group workspaces, and conference rooms) as well as any other resources they might need, including loaner PCs or special equipment. Some companies are also setting up reservation kiosks in their lobbies that enable employees who may happen to show up unexpectedly to quickly and easily sign up for an available work space. To more effectively address employees’ needs, some facilities are collecting employee preferences (for particular workspaces or locations near their colleagues) and creating user profiles for future scheduling.

Videoconference: Similarly, videoconferencing avoids expending the energy, time, and cost of travel. Automated scheduling can ensure that all of the resources—such as equipment and specific room arrangements—will be set up in the room when needed and that meeting invitations and reminders will be sent to participants.

Monitor space use with presence detection: Increasing numbers of companies are using those familiar electronic access cards as presence detection devices, as well. These devices, when used in conjunction with room or space reservations, can determine if individuals are actually using the resources they have reserved. If not, the climate or lighting control systems will automatically readjust to unoccupied settings to lessen the energy consumption of that space.

Optimize resources: By more effectively using the resources you have—whether they be a fleet of cars, laptops, or audiovisual equipment—and better allocating how and when they are used, fms managers can extend the life of their assets and delay purchasing new ones.

Empower employees to help initiate change: Employees can use emission dashboards to find out their individual carbon footprint and make changes to help the environment. For example, they can monitor the energy consumption of their individual workspace and make necessary changes based on this information to make it more energy efficient.

It is clear that becoming environmentally friendly is no longer a choice for companies but rather a mandate. Forward thinking fms are already identifying ways to measure and reduce energy consumption to strategically plan for anticipated regulatory changes on the horizon. They are finding that new, cost-effective solutions such as resource scheduling technology can help create eco-friendly environments that, at the same time, are delivering cost savings to their organizations. By embracing and preparing for these changes, fms are heralding a new era of corporate and environmental partnership and realizing added social, economic, and brand benefits.

Anderson can be can be reached at (508) 416-3600 or [email protected]

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One Response

  1. Steve Hill says:

    A very good article and it is good to see some different solutions to the same-old, same-old that you get everywhere else – not that they are wrong it is just good to see some variants.
    Measuring energy use is vital to be able to change behaviour and advance metering is a major step in that direction.

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