A Blueprint for Greening New York City's Buildings
The Urban Green Council and 32BJ Thomas Shortman Training Fund have
released a report on
the importance of operations and maintenance (O&M) on building energy consumption
and how training superintendents can improve New York City's energy
efficiency, reduce operating costs, and help address our climate
crisis. This blueprint for greening NYC's buildings helps property managers stay out of the red.
Why Green Buildings Matter
Buildings in the United States consume more energy than any other sector of the economy, including transportation or industry. Inefficient buildings are wasting our money and polluting our atmosphere. In the midst of this economic crisis we are paying a price we simply cannot afford. By greening our city’s buildings we can SAVE MONEY AND CLEAN OUR ENVIRONMENT.
The investment required to “green” our buildings is small compared to the payoff. There are a variety of low cost and no cost strategies to make our buildings run more efficiently. It is just a matter of providing our building professionals with the proper green training.
The Thomas Shortman Training Fund is a joint labor-management partnership which provides training to SEIU Local 32BJ members. We have been helping green our city’s buildings for the last four years by providing intensive training courses for building service professionals.
We are now poised to dramatically expand the scope and impact of our training program by focusing on the individual most responsible for the day-to-day operations and maintenance of our buildings—the superintendent. We will train 1,000 green superintendents in one year to help foster a greener New York City
The financial benefits of green buildings are enormous. Every bit of energy and water we save puts money directly into our pockets. Replacing a single conventional incandescent lighting fixture with a similar high-efficiency fixture can save upwards of $120 per year. Fixing a leaky toilet will save $730 a year. Very simple actions can provide very sizable returns. When a trained green super installs efficient light bulbs, fixes leaky toilets, installs motion sensors, or simply weather-strips doors we all save money.
The cost of inefficient buildings is not limited to our pocketbook. The impact starts at home. Americans spend almost 90% of their time inside and EPA studies have shown that indoor air quality is sometimes two to five times worse than the outside air.
A trained green super can improve the indoor air quality of our buildings. A green super can use nontoxic cleaning products and ensure that building ventilation is working at maximum efficiency. Good indoor air quality reduces sickness and helps tenants avoid the symptoms of a variety of chronic health conditions, including asthma and allergies.
The cost of dirty buildings to our environment is tremendous. Every kilowatt of electricity or gallon of fossil fuel that a superintendent saves reduces our city’s impact on our planet.
Superintendents that make buildings green are helping to fashion the sustainable New York City that we all deserve. Green supers are an indispensable element of our nation’s effort to clean our environment and avert the global climate crisis.
Our country is undergoing a green revolution. Tens of thousands of jobs are being created nationwide to help make our buildings more efficient. When we create green pathways out of poverty, we make our communities more vibrant, our city safer, and our nation stronger. When we support green supers we save money, clean the environment, and help our neighborhoods prosper.
Green O&M - Faster, Cheaper, Easier Energy Savings
Green Buildings: Focusing on the Here and Now
- It is estimated that 85% of New York City energy use in the year 2030 will come from buildings that exist today. We have invested countless billions to construct our majestic skyline so our focus must be on what we have right now, on our existing buildings and our existing building service workers.
The Power of Energy Efficient Operations and Maintenance
- A U.S. EPA/DOE funded research project, conducted by Portland Energy Conservation
, found that "O&M programs targeting energy efficiency ... are estimated to save 5% to 20% on energy bills without a significant capital investment." This makes upgrading the O&M of our large multifamily buildings one of the most cost effective ways to save money and reduce carbon emissions.
Expanding the Scope of Green Buildings
- Often when we hear about green buildings the main focus is on new construction and large capital improvements. We tend to focus on the comparatively few new buildings that get constructed each year and on expensive capital retrofits like photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, sophisticated HVAC controls, and other expensive technology. Missing from this picture is the human factor.
Chart 1 gives a complete picture of what it means to make a building green. Capital investments in advanced technology move a building along the horizontal axis. However, we also need investments in our workforce to move a building — whether conventional or high-tech — up the vertical axis. A broader, more powerful and more cost effective perspective of green buildings sees buildings as a combination of physical structure and the human capital charged with operating and maintaining that structure. An expansive, holistic view of green buildings sees both axes. This view comes from a whole-building viewpoint and prioritizes both the physical and operational aspects of a building.
Retrofitting an existing building, i.e. moving along the horizontal axis from C to D, requires some form of capital investment. Moving an existing building along the vertical axis from C to A requires training. Specifically, it requires that the building service workers operating and maintaining that building are trained in the most advanced techniques and strategies available for efficient building operation. When you make a capital investment, and move a building from C to D, but neglect to train that building’s workforce, you reduce the monetary and environmental benefits of that retrofit. Often a lack of training can eliminate the benefits of the capital investments all together. Several years ago the Community Environmental Center, a non-profit building energy conservation organization in Queens, returned to twenty large residential apartment buildings they had previously retrofitted and found that the economic and environmental benefits of their upgrades had been nullified in almost half of those buildings because of improper operations and maintenance practices.
Spending Money to Waste Energy
- There is nothing worse than paying tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to install solar panels on your roof to produce electricity that then just gets wasted in an inefficient system inside your building. When we make large capital investments in inefficient and improperly maintained buildings we are compounding our mistakes. The first and most cost effective step to a truly green building will require us to maximize the resources we currently have. Even our most wasteful buildings can be run more efficiently. When we do choose to install advanced green technologies it is important to pair that installation with energy efficient O&M to maximize the return on our investment.
A Recipe for Waste: Green Capital Investment without Training
- The importance of a trained green staff cannot be overstated. There are numerous scenarios where great intentions and large investments are squandered because of a lack of training. One all too familiar scenario starts something like this: A building installs an expensive, powerful, and extremely efficient boiler in its basement. The new high-tech boiler will consume less oil and therefore save the building large sums of money. The boiler uses computers to automate its operation and to ensure it is always running at maximum efficiency. The building’s owners spend tens of thousands of dollars to install the boiler but neglect to invest any time in ensuring that the staff knows how to use it. After a few weeks of operation the staff becomes frustrated with the new boiler because they can not figure out how to operate it properly. To keep the building heated the staff opts to shut-off the computer controls of the boiler and simply run it manually, like the way they used their old inefficient boiler. By turning off the computer controls they effectively turn this new boiler into the old boiler.
Turning off the computer controls has negated the economic and environmental benefits of the new boiler and has wasted the money and good intentions of the building owners. Compounding this problem, the owners look at their fuel bills in the months after the boiler’s installation and feel like they were ripped off. They conclude that the new boiler was not more efficient as had been promised. They then decide that it is not in their best interest to continue to invest in green technologies for their building. This entire scenario could have been avoided with a small investment to make sure that the building staff knew how to use the boiler properly. Thousands of dollars were wasted, the good intentions of owners were squandered, and we all pay for the mistake.
But it can get even worse. In one particularly bad case a 34 unit residential building in Brooklyn performed a series of retrofits, including the installation of an energy management system (EMS), a new burner for the boiler, insulation, EnergyStar refrigerators, and more. The entire project was projected to reduce fuel use by 58% but in reality total fuel use increased by 47%! Upon inspection it was found that no one had been trained to use the new EMS. Instead, the superintendent had chosen to disconnect it and operate the boiler manually. Additionally, CFL bulbs were replaced with incandescent bulbs, low-flow water fixtures were missing, and EnergyStar appliances were removed.