Apart from its land footprint, every building also has an environmental footprint. The choices their managers make will have a tangible impact on the future of their occupants. Greener alternatives to conventional choice pervade every aspect of facility management; Aneesh Kadyan, Executive Director – Operations, for a leading real estate services firm, sketches out a roadmap for how facility owners can take ownership of their carbon footprint and implement ways to mitigate it.
Kadyan heads the operations of a large team of professionals in the building and facility management arena. He has over 23 years’ experience in management of services in technology-intensive environments, and his areas of interest include maintenance management, corporate governance, strategic planning and technology interventions in industry. He is a Professional Engineer (PE), active member of ISHRAE, a certified Energy Auditor and an IGBC Accredited Professional (AP).
Buildings are one of the largest consumers of energy on the planet, consuming more than 40% of energy, the majority of which is fossil-fuel based. While the Indian Green Building movement is one of the fastest growing in the world, with over 7,500 green building projects covering over 8 billion sq ft registered with IGBC (India Green Building Council), there is still a large stock of buildings that are not ‘green’ or as energy efficient as one would want. These buildings contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, ultimately leading to climate change and its disastrous effects. Thus, adopting a sustainable approach to building management, which was always the aspiration of the building manager or owner, is now an imperative.
Sustainable Building Management
Apart from the large amounts of energy consumed by buildings, there is also the added effect of waste that is generated and water that is consumed in buildings, that impacts the environment. The runoff of contaminated water from buildings into the water table has long lasting effects. Hazardous waste as well as regular building waste not being disposed off in a sustainable manner will similarly affect future generations. There is thus a very strong case for making building management operations more sustainable.
ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) is the flavor of the season, and progressive organisations are working towards creating their ESG goals and executing plans to achieve them. While working towards ESG goals will help building owners operate more sustainably, there are several actions and initiatives that the building manager can take to achieve quick results in addition to the ESG programs that the organisations undertake.
Be it the cleaning chemicals used for surface treatments or specialised formulations for cooling towers and other equipment, switching over to chemicals that have the least environmental impact will reduce the buildings ecological footprint. The cost difference between green and standard chemicals has come down and is less than 15–20%, which is an insignificant amount compared to mitigation of the environmental impact.
Most buildings do not have metered connections for tenants and there is a fixed cost for the tenants if at all. This leads to excessive use of water as there is no monetary benefit for the consumer.
Metering water connections allows the occupiers to know how much water they are consuming and when there is a spike in water consumption, building managers get alerted to it and can rectify leaks and faults more quickly. In one residential building, introduction of water meters at each outlet in the home (kitchen and bathrooms) helped reduce water consumption by over 60%. In one commercial building where water meters were introduced, the water consumption per capita reduced from 110 to under 40 over a span of two quarters. In addition to conserving water, there are also related energy savings due to less use of the water system pumps and hence, there is a reduction in the building’s carbon footprint. Similarly, retrofitting low flow fixtures in washrooms will reduce water consumption by more than 40%.
Organic Waste Composters (OWCs) are a very effective addition to any building. Newer buildings must have them by law in many places, but older buildings will greatly benefit by investing in OWCs. These devices help minimise discharge into the environment and the byproduct of the OWCs – manure – can be utilised by building occupants for their homes. In one building where an OWC was installed, the satisfaction scores of the occupants increased significantly; there is a positive upside to such an investment. In addition to OWCs, ensuring occupants adhere to waste segregation practices is an easy way to inculcate the habit of managing waste in the building.
Sustainable supply chains
Buildings do not operate in isolation to their environment. By engaging with suppliers who have adopted sustainable practices in their organizations, building owners incentivise such progressive organisations and at the same time, ensure that the products and services that they consume are sustainable.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Buildings are where people come to work and spend a large portion of their day. By adopting RRR practices such as banning single-use plastics, using waste to create decorative props, installing recycling bins for e-waste etc, building owners can send a strong message to the occupants on their commitment to sustainability.
In a large IT park complex, a developer has created a gardening zone for their tenants. They plant vegetables and tend to them as well, and finally take home their produce. This has given the tenants involved a greater understanding of sustainability issues.
With easier availability as well as improvements in IoT devices, more aspects of the building can be tracked and monitored digitally. Digital sensors in washrooms help the supervisor know when there is high footfall, and cleaning frequencies can be increased. Similarly, smart dustbins relay messages to the waste management team to empty the bin only when it is full, thus reducing use of bin liners. Building managers will need to quickly identify areas and tasks that can be digitised, and implement a digital strategy to manage building operations.
Building managers and owners are well positioned to help in the fight for a sustainable future. By adopting sustainable building management practices, there can be a significant reduction in a building’s carbon footprint and the additional costs associated with such interventions are insignificant when one sees things from a sustainability viewpoint. The time for ROIs on sustainability initiatives is over as we are heading to a 1.50C hotter world, and we all need to do our bit to prevent that – now!