Facility Managers Are Key to Shrinking a Building's Carbon Footprint

May 23, 2011
Facility managers work closest with the key building systems and can see the whole picture for the building – understanding everything from the mechanics to occupants.

For most organizations, carbon footprint reporting is a voluntary effort. Some companies measure their carbon footprints because it matches their values, boosts brand image, or public shareholders request reporting. The task usually falls to a marketing person, compliance officer, or sustainability coordinator, with facility managers merely handing over copies of utility bills. This dynamic misses significant opportunities to reduce an organization’s overall carbon emissions. Facility managers work closest with the key building systems and can see the whole picture for the building – understanding everything from the mechanics to occupants.

Aligning Goals
Facility managers are usually focused on keeping operational costs low and this can run counter to supporting environmental sustainability measures that come with a premium. However, keeping your building filled with tenants in an extremely competitive market is critical too. Faced with a choice among buildings, tenants who care about the environment and their own brand image will opt for the more sustainable building. A wise way to achieve both goals is first to increase operational efficiencies and then apply the savings to other sustainability efforts. By getting your carbon footprint on the radar of decision makers and finding upfront ways to fund the effort, you play a critical role in increasing the marketing value of your building.

Progressive Report Card
Carbon emissions’ reporting measures how many metric tons (Mtons) of carbon dioxide (CO2) your building operations release into the atmosphere. Recognize that tracking is just a place to start. You don’t need to score high marks in the beginning. Determine your building’s carbon impact so you can work toward improvements and lowering the impacts. It can be daunting to decide where to begin - to help shape the task, the industry breaks footprinting into three specific “scopes”:

Scope 1 measures the CO2 emissions you have direct control over – such as operating a smokestack on site – you can decide whether or not to create emissions. Scope 1 rarely includes non-manufacturing buildings.

Scope 2 focuses on your electricity use and where it’s sourced. While you don’t have much choice in where your electricity comes from (this is up to your utilities), you can influence how much you draw. There is currently no oversight body governing your calculations, but you should examine your regional grid as your electricity provider draws from a regional mix of coal, natural gas, hydro, and other power sources.  Each of these inputs stream through the power grid and your building receives a mix of those sources.

The carbon footprint calculation for Scope 2 takes the number of kilowatt-hours of electricity your building uses and multiplies it by the Mtons (when converting from pounds to metric tons, divide the pounds by 2,204) of CO2 present in your regional grid mix. For example, the average American commercial office building uses 17.3 kilowatt-hours of electricity per square foot annually (as found in Table C14  Electricity Consumption & Expenditure Intensities for Non-Mall Buildings, 2003 ftp://ftp.eia.doe.gov/consumption/cbecs2003_ce.pdf). Using a 500,000 square foot building as example – in Oregon, the regional grid mix would place the building’s CO2 emissions at approximately 3,450 Mtons, while the same building located in Georgia would be responsible for 5,844 Mtons of CO2 based on more fossil fuels being present in their utility grid mix than Oregon.

Scope 3 is the category of fractional control and includes activities such as employee travel, supply chain impacts, waste stream, and the embodied emissions of products consumed.

How to Get There
Carbon footprinting gives facility managers a powerful metric because everything can be related back to a CO2 number – building energy use, the embodied

Patrick Nye

Patrick Nye has approximately 10 years’ experience in renewable energy and carbon. He leads business development for the new Building Insights LLC at Green Building Services. Patrick can be reached at 866.755.6565 or [email protected].

emissions in products consumed on site, transportation, and disposal or recycling all figure in. The first step is to decide which scopes to include in you measurement. Next you create strategies to track and begin to develop your facility’s baseline. With routine measurements, you have the ability to report the footprint either internally or to outside stakeholders. Be sure to use consistent methodology for measurement over time in order to demonstrate improvement or to identify areas of concern.

To date most carbon footprint activities have been voluntary, however there is an emerging role within compliance. Two years ago expectations for Federal carbon emissions’ regulatory compliance were high, but the challenges of the economic downturn left federal legislators unwilling to burden companies further. ]Nevertheless, many states like California have proceeded with their own emissions reduction compliance measures such as the passage of Assembly Bill (AB) 32.The bill mandates greenhouse gas emission reductions in energy, semiconductor, automotive, and other businesses. As national regulation remains on the table, states, counties and municipalities may lead the way with greenhouse gas compliance. For those managing a portfolio of facilities, there may be a number of mandates to track in the future.

Continual Process
Carbon footprinting is an evolutionary process aimed at continued operational improvement. Creating an internal green team can help reach your goals, but if you still feel overwhelmed there are people and software tools available to make the effort easier. In the end, you will reduce your organization’s carbon emissions, reduce your costs and, when regulations do become implemented, you’ll rise to the top of the class.

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