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How Smart is Your Building?

Extending green facility concepts beyond the data center

Extending green facility concepts beyond the data center

Office buildings in the U.S. have failed to keep pace with the revolution in automation that pervades modern life, according to a new IBM survey of office workers. Buildings account for 70 percent of U.S. energy use and absorb 40 percent of the world’s raw materials (around 3 billion tons of material annually), yet they’ve received surprisingly little attention from businesses—until recently.

“We’re seeing a keen interest in companies now that’s directed toward building efficiency,” says Lisa Hopkins, industry lead for smarter buildings and cities, IBM Global Business Services. The new focus on buildings stems from a movement toward corporate environmental awareness and costs. More companies are adopting environmentally friendly initiatives, where changing how buildings are constructed, maintained, operated and used makes a real impact. Inefficiencies built into office buildings take a toll in lost productivity and added costs. Smart buildings can directly boost the business’s bottom line by shrinking operating expenses with fully optimized resources.

The Study

In the IBM Smarter Buildings study, which surveyed 6,486 U.S. office workers in 16 cities, only a third of respondents thought their organizations’ buildings were environmentally responsible. IBM has compiled the results of the survey into a Smarter Buildings index that ranks efficiency in each city on a scale from one to 10, with 10 being the best. The index is composed of 10 elements: elevator wait times, Internet access, badge access, lights that turn off automatically in the evening, sensors that adjust lights and temperature when people enter and leave rooms, renewable energy sources, low-flow toilets, air-friendly products, respondents’ opinions of how environmentally friendly the building is, and respondents’ desire to participate in building redesign. Building environmental awareness appeared to run higher in some metropolitan areas (such as winner Los Angeles), while other cities lagged behind (such as Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis). Figure 1 shows all 16 cities’ rankings.

Drilling deeper, the study estimated that companies were losing between 2.2 and 22.5 years annually from employees waiting for or being stuck in elevators. Figure 2 compares the total span, in years, wasted.

The study also revealed several areas of progress:

  • 79 percent of respondents said they conserve resources such as water or electricity as part of their regular work routines.
  • 75 percent said they would be more likely to conserve resources at work if they were rewarded for the effort.
  • 31 percent reported that their offices had low-flush toilets.
  • 14 percent said their office buildings used solar or other renewable energy.

“What we’re witnessing is a continuous educational process that in part is being driven by new compliance and governance requirements for facilities,” Hopkins says. These requirements are expected to heighten in the U.S. and in other countries as governmental and nongovernmental agencies seek standards in carbon-footprint monitoring and carbon-trade initiatives. Other factors are also at work, such as pressures on companies to reduce operational expenses as energy costs continue to rise and fossil fuel sources continue to diminish. There’s also the element of corporate reputation for environmental stewardship, as witnessed by a recent IBM CEO study in which 80 percent of CEOs viewed sustainability reputation as impacting brand value.

“The sustainability metric speaks to how well an organization is using a particular physical asset or resource,” Hopkins says. “In other words, does the use of the asset or facility contribute to or take away from the operating environment?” Software can now provide granular visibility into facility use and help evaluate it against sustainability policies and regulatory or corporate targets. This can help businesses govern physical assets and how employees use them, Hopkins says.

2.2 to 22.5 years: The amount of time surveyed cities lose each year to employees waiting for or stuck in elevators.

Mary Shacklett is president and CEO of Transworld Data.

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