5 Steps Toward Getting Your Environmental Strategy Green-lighted

April 1, 2008

By Tom Forshee, Director, Sustainability and Project Operations, SiteStuff, Inc.

So you've decided to go green.  Good choice, because with 80 percent of corporate America expecting to engage in green at least 16 percent of the time by next year, it's a safe bet your peers and competitors are either doing likewise or about to.  And considering the level of scrutiny real estate companies receive from investors, building occupants, lawmakers and consumers-not to mention the $24 billion price tag on annual commercial real estate energy consumption-it makes sense to incorporate Earth-friendliness as a core business strategy element, one that ties environmental consciousness to such bottom-line concerns as tenant attraction and retention, compliance, tracking, and reporting. 

As with any business activity, instilling environmental sensibilities into your product purchases requires gaining a clear understanding of what's needed, measuring results, and seeking continuous improvement.

So how to get started?  Here are some quick and easy steps:

Find out what you need  Many real estate owners and managers don't know about such things as high-efficiency lamps with reduced mercury content, day-light harvesting ballasts, or green janitorial products.  So, the sensible first step is learning how to develop green purchasing strategies.  "A qualified team of procurement experts, including those with LEED® accreditation, can evaluate portfolio-level product usage," said Tom Forshee, director of Sustainability and Project Operations for SiteStuff, an Austin, Texas-based commercial real estate procurement company and the sole source of a comprehensive opportunity assessment program.  Building owners and managers gain alternative suggestions for lighting, janitorial and other supplies and their potential energy, waste and cost reductions though such assessments.

Revamp your purchasing process  A common misconception about going green holds that upgrades involve tremendous capital expenditures with a relatively long payback period.  Actually, plenty of green initiatives' payback periods are three years or less.  Large capital expenditures such as cooling equipment aren't always necessary; simple approaches, such as building commissioning, which involves tuning the heating and air conditioning systems to operate in sync, might do the job.  Other relatively small yet productive changes include obtaining high-efficiency lamps with reduced mercury content and roll towels.  A standardized offering of green operating supplies also makes purchasing eco-friendly maintenance, repair and operating supply products easier.

Go paperless  The days are numbered for the traditional costly, manual process of copying, mailing, and storing paper invoices associated with accounts payable and other functions.  That's because top-line platforms available on the market automate the receiving, entering, coding and approval of invoices with a central processing facility that converts them into electronic data and images.  Cycle time improvements of 80 percent have been documented, and just imagine how much paper is saved.

Another paper-free option, portals, support green initiatives by letting you eliminate the costly storage and distribution of property management documents. Lease-specific documents can be uploaded securely for access by authorized users.  Tens of thousands of investors can receive financial reports online.  If you're generating a hundred-page report, how much time, money and paper could you, the property owner, save by avoiding the production and mailing costs of compiling such a document?

Enlist your CIO  As commercial real estate companies seek advantages amid intense global competition and rising stakeholder expectations, chief information officers have become catalysts for adopting leading-edge technologies that improve processes, attract customers, and enhance products and services.  Green strategies are no exception.  Uniting disparate property management systems, including those that minimize paper, will become an increasingly major part of their job.

Continuously reevaluate  Evaluating solutions and quantifying performance is a challenging but essential part of the green process.  "The key to success lies in continually benchmarking, evaluating, implementing, and reassessing," Forshee said.  "The best methodology for this process is a system of continuous improvement.  While most commonly applied to manufacturing environments, the philosophy of small incremental changes is easily applied to a green purchasing program as well."

The green payoff
In five years of alternative product selection purchases through opportunity assessments and online catalog purchases, energy savings of 283,694,325 kWh, energy cost savings of $28,369,433, and carbon dioxide emission reductions of 394,902,500 lbs.—equivalent to planting 53,853 trees or removing 34,161 cars from the road-can be documented.  Those numbers are rapidly changing as more organizations implement green purchasing programs.

A few examples:

  • A large corporate banking company with more than 3,000 branch locations sought to reduce its multimillion-dollar utility expense tab.  The relatively simple steps of installing longer-life lamps and ballasts produced $8 million in savings over four years, plus a $1 million annual net cost savings in energy and maintenance.  Recycling old lamps and ballasts also prevented mercury leakage into the environment
  • By realigning fixtures and reducing foot-candle levels from 100 foot candles to accepted IES standards, a 213,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Texas anticipates saving $180,000 in electricity costs with a payback in 15 months
  • A 93,228-square-foot multiuse facility in Illinois currently uses T12 lamps and outdated Mercury Vapor Technology. By retrofitting the T12 to high efficiency T8 and upgrading the Mercury Vapor Technology, the property expects savings of $26,000 with a payback in 10.5 months
  • Swapping out paper towels for hand dryers in an 83-floor, 2.6 million-square-foot Chicago building's 332 restrooms will keep 48 tons of physical waste out of landfills and save $350,000 over five years

Implementing a green purchasing program provides a useful framework for achieving economic, social, and environmental sustainability across an entire portfolio of buildings. This course of action can be powerful yet uncomplicated-all it takes is the simple addition of a few product changes in the decision-making process, and the results will truly amaze your organization.

As Director of Sustainability and Project Operations for SiteStuff, Tom Forshee is responsible for developing and overseeing large-scale lighting and green janitorial projects within the SiteStuff client base. In more than eight years with SiteStuff Tom has managed multiple retrofit programs for corporate facilities in excess of $2 million annually and 100 million square feet. He was responsible for the company's online catalog operations.  As Director of Strategic Accounts, he was instrumental in launching SiteStuff's Opportunity Assessment program, which brings energy reduction and sustainability initiatives to SiteStuff's commercial real estate clients. His previous experience includes facility and operations management for both the Rouse Company and Tandy, where he was responsible for HVAC and Lighting retrofit projects.

Tom earned a bachelor of science degree in Interior Design from the University of Texas at Austin.

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