Green Operations for Industrial Facilities

April 18, 2009
Find out how to save money with green operations in the industrial sector

The case has been made many times for environmentally friendly buildings; many pundits have discussed the green trend until they’re blue in the face.

It’s now common knowledge that a green facility will be more energy efficient when compared to a traditional facility, and that these buildings have the potential to generate lasting business value.

It’s also true that the tendency toward green construction is an enduring trend. The demand for green buildings will continue to increase as more and more building owners realize financial returns from energy-efficient facilities. In recent studies conducted by McGraw-Hill and CoStar, LEED-certified buildings have shown evidence of garnering higher rents and selling at larger profit margins.

Today’s challenge in continuing the green trend is the global economy. New construction starts are tapering off significantly; this year, they‘re expected to decline to 30 to 35 million square feet in the top 30 U.S. markets from 81 million square feet last year, and 146 million square feet in 2007. The current environment isn’t one that encourages new development, so the question becomes: What can owners/managers do to continue the green trend during slow development times?

Efficient Lighting Makes a Difference

Efficient lighting design includes the use of new technology and natural lighting. COURTESY OF PROLOGIS.

In 2007, Sears built a 780,400-square-foot distribution center in Stockton, CA. One of Sears’ main criteria for the building design was that it include an energy-efficient lighting system.

To meet the team’s goal of achieving a distribution center with good lighting uniformity and overall high energy efficiency, ProLogis, Ware Malcomb, and Exposure Illumination Architects decided that the lighting system would consist of high-bay T5 fluorescents and advanced lighting controls.

The project included multiple photosensors divided into nine daylighting control zones. The sensors detect the amount of natural light in each zone and adjust the intensity of the florescent lights accordingly. Using nine zones increases the sensitivity and flexibility of the system because lighting conditions may vary in different parts of the building throughout the day. The circuit feeding the lamps is energized only if insufficient daylight is available, such as on cloudy days or at night, and then only if occupancy is detected.

Another important component of the system is the strategic use of natural light allowed into the facility via skylights – most days, the warehouse uses nearly 100-percent natural light when the sun is shining. To enhance this feature, Sears took an extra step to make sure its internal racking system didn’t hinder natural light from reaching the floor. Since a large majority of warehouses include skylights, this is something that building owners and managers should remember when designing or arranging racking systems with their customers – a prime example of when foresight makes a big difference.

The end result is one of the most efficient warehouse-specific lighting systems in the country, with an effective lighting power density of 0.18 watts per square foot. This equates to 70-percent less than the maximum prescribed by California’s Title 24 energy code, which is already a stringent standard compared to the rest of the United States.

Sears benefits directly from the savings. The company is projected to save 2.75 million kilowatt-hours of energy per year. When calculated on an annual basis, this adds up to approximately $399,000 based on local utility rates.

Monitoring as of March 2009 confirmed the projected savings, measuring an average monthly $0.0225 per-square-foot electrical operating cost (lighting plus battery chargers) for the four winter months. Savings are expected to escalate in the summer when the sun angle is higher, daylight hours are extended, and utility rates increase. The team projects that Sears’ energy costs could shrink to as low as $0.0125 per square foot per month due to the lighting system.

It’s prudent for building owners and facility managers to shift their current focus to center on best practices for converting existing facilities into environmentally friendly spaces. There’s close to 6 billion square feet of existing industrial warehouse space today in the top 30 U.S. markets – much of which could be upgraded with green-design elements. Plus, there’s no better way to practice environmental sustainability than to make the best, most proficient use of current resources.

Industrial Building Improvements
buildings not originally built to green standards, there are many improvements that can be made to bring them to a darker shade of green.

  • Energy-efficient lighting systems. Warehouses traditionally use metal-halide lighting, but commercially available T5 and T8 fluorescents last longer and significantly reduce electricity usage, especially when used in combination with photoelectric cells and motion sensors.
  • Roof systems. Traditionally, warehouses have black EPDM rubber roofing membranes or gray built-up roofs, which absorb heat from sunlight. White thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO) roofing offers the same performance while reducing urban heat island effect and providing a comfortable work environment. When the time comes for roof replacement, owners should consider substituting a building’s roof with white TPO material.
  • Water-conservation measures. Motion-activated faucets, low-flow toilets, waterless urinals, and captured rainwater for irrigation reduce the use of fresh water. Replacing older components with newer, energy-efficient models carries a low upfront cost with a long-term impact.
  • Landscape maintenance. When appropriate, replacing dying or struggling landscaping with native plants or shrubbery can minimize water consumption and mitigate overall net carbon emissions. It can also be prudent to re-analyze watering systems to ensure optimal efficiency. For example, installing rain sensors that shut off a watering system when it’s raining can drastically cut down on unnecessary water usage.
  • Bicycle, hybrid, and carpool vehicle parking. Offering space for alternative modes of transportation encourages employees to make lifestyle choices that reduce carbon emissions. Typically, all this requires is posting signs and restriping the parking lot.

All of the above improvements are components that can be added or integrated into an existing facility, and all have the potential to greatly improve operational design.

Encouraging Green Operational Practices
Building managers have the unique ability to encourage green practices within their own operations, as well as their customers’ operations. This can be done in a host of different avenues.

  • Dedicated staff. On-staff maintenance technicians are tasked with the regular inspection and maintenance of roofs, parking lots, landscaping, fire-suppression systems, etc. Employing dedicated staff for this purpose and creating a regular maintenance schedule ensures that buildings are performing at the highest possible levels.
  • On-site recycling. Creating a defined area for on-site recycling encourages building occupants to integrate green practices into their waste-management programs. Every measure used to make it easier for employees and customers to participate in recycling does that much more to reduce landfill waste and the use of virgin resources. In addition, it may be possible to generate revenue from recycling since some companies will purchase materials like used plastics.
  • Reminders. Most often, a simple reminder is all it takes. One way to do this is by creating signs and placards that prompt customers and employees to turn off lights, check that all doors are secure, and use non-disposable water bottles and utensils. While this may seem like a simple step, the energy savings can be tremendous.

All building owners and managers should take a new look at business operations. Practicing new or improved operational methods sends a positive message to all constituents, and the impact resonates throughout all extensions of an organization.

The effort to create green industrial properties does not need to be put on hold during the current economic downturn. There are still many simple ways to improve efficiencies and increase a building’s operational performance. In fact, now is a better time than ever to tighten up on green practices and secure programs that can continue many years down the road.

Sarah Martinez is sustainability analyst at Denver-based ProLogis.

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