Going 'Green' in Your Facility

In the past decade the world has recognized the need to employ green measures in almost every sphere of life. Many organizations are now embracing facility sustainability and other 'green' measures in different facets of their operations and maintenance of their facilities. Green Management is a major focus of these reforms, particularly as the award of LEED certifications are being recognized by industry, clients, and building occupants.

What is a Green Building?

The U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) describes a green building as the process of using environmentally responsible and resource efficient methods in a building from the design phase right through the ongoing maintenance. This encompasses the economy, durability, utility, and comfort of the building.

The Importance of Green Maintenance

Even though the design and construction phase of a building are important, it can't be described as a green building unless the methods incorporated into the maintenance of the building are also green. This involves such aspects as the indoor air quality, the cleaning products used in maintaining the building, and conservation of basic resources such as energy and water, amongst others.

In other words, the ongoing maintenance of the building needs to be sustainable. In order to achieve this level of sustainability, it is important to establish a method of measuring and controlling the assets and resources of the facility. Although there are a number of methods for achieving this, the most efficient is through the use of Computerized Maintenance Management Software, or CMMS.

Why You Need to Go Green

It is becoming impractical for a facility manager to employ facility maintenance techniques that are not sustainable or considered green. The commitment made by most organizations is not only to improve their work environment, but to remain competitive with innovative companies who have embraced green methods. Some of the benefits of being green are:

    Higher Employee Productivity: When the indoor air is healthier, fewer employees become sick, reducing the need to take sick leave. In addition, when building occupants feel tired or "off", their productivity suffers.

    Industry Recognition: With a number of prestigious awards such as the U.S Green Building Council (USGBC) LEED award, an organization that employs sustainable measures and meets green standards gets recognition from our industry and their peers.

    Client Appreciation: Clients and building occupants have become more aware of the necessity for healthier facilities and this often reflects in their leasing, hiring and contracting decisions.

The Importance of Water Conservation

As a facility manager, one of your chief responsibilities is to ensure that the facility runs at optimal level while reducing costs. There are several components of a facility that can bleed resources out of a company, and one the more traditional culprits is water. Water is a huge resource and is vital for every facility, but it is a resource that is easily wasted.

Water Conservation Tips for Facility Managers

Water conservation is a hot topic right now for various reasons. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that by 2013 several states in the U.S will be experiencing water shortage. A report from the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International states that commercial buildings are responsible for the consumption of one-sixth of the world's fresh water supply.

Each year water costs seem to increase, and with high consumption in most facilities, water is becoming a major factor to consider. With this in mind, implementing a few tips will go a long way to achieving that end.

Have a Water Conservation Goal

Without a goal, you have no way to measure your progress. The easiest place to start is reviewing the last few years of water consumption by month, and look for trends that may indicate seasonal and occupant factors that have changed. Once you have this baseline, you can begin evaluating the different consumption points within the facility and track specific consumption from these points over time. You may need to install water meters in some of these points to improve your understanding of consumption. This is a worthwhile cost, because there may be unexpected consumption that can be corrected easily once understood. Some water conservation goals include environmental protection, sustainability, energy conservation, and cost effectiveness.

Use Reclaimed or "Gray" Water

Gray water is waste water which is usually made up of wash water from kitchen, bathroom and laundry sinks, washers and tubs that are not suitable for drinking, but can be used for other purposes. Instead of throwing water from these sources down the drain, they may be efficiently reclaimed and reused for other purposes around the facility.

One of those purposes is the use of gray water for cooling systems. Cooling systems are a huge source of water consumption, and gray water may be reclaimed, treated, and used in these systems.

Make Use of Water Efficient Fixtures

Next to cooling systems, restroom plumbing fixtures can be the largest consumers of water in a facility. There are a number of fixture choices that conserve water without decreasing user value. Even drinking fountains can be optimized to lower wasted water, such as models with instant on cooling that minimizes the amount of water people use before they take a drink.

Sources of Poor Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)

Once construction is completed on a facility, a major source of poor IAQ is the type of cleaning agents and solvents that are used to maintain the facility. These are not the only culprits however, as indoor smoking, the use of pesticides, faulty HVAC, and poor ventilation can also generate problems.

Health Problems Associated with Poor Indoor Air Quality

The health related problems that can ensue from breathing poor air include asthma, headaches, dizziness, itchy eyes and allergies, among others. Sometimes these problems do not show up till much later and while some can easily be treated, others are often long term problems.

Some researchers have also suggested that heart diseases and some forms of cancer can be traced to poor indoor air quality.

Where the Facility Manager Comes In

It is the duty of the facility manager to identify where indoor pollution might be emanating from and take steps to diminish and control the sources. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) one way to minimize the indoor pollution is to utilize low vapor emitting products. Because sprays and aerosols can contribute significantly to indoor air pollution, they also should be minimized where possible.

There should be a well stated smoking policy to eliminate that source of pollution. It is important to frequently educate the occupants of a building about the importance of keeping the IAQ high and steps they can take to ensure that the indoor air is kept as clean as possible.

Preventing or Eliminating 'Sick Building' Syndrome

Cleaning agents, solvents, airborne particles, and mold spores can build up in a building that is not effectively employing green methods. Since facility occupants spend at least 35% of their day inside a building, constant exposure to harmful agents builds up in their bodies, and can lead to serious illness.

What is Sick Building Syndrome?

The U.S. Environmental Protection agency (EPA) defines SBS as a situation "in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified." The EPS goes on to explain that SBS could occur when a building is not operated or maintained in line with its original design; the design itself was not done properly or as a result of maintenance, cleaning, or occupant activities.

Symptoms of Sick Building Syndrome

One thing to note is that the symptoms of SBS will vary from one building to another. However, you know that your building is suffering from SBS when you hear from the occupants several complaints of a combination of the following symptoms listed by the World Health Organization (WHO):

    Eye, nose and throat irritation
    Mental fatigue
    Hoarseness, wheezing, itching and unspecified hypersensitivity
    Sensation of dry mucous membranes and skin
    Erythema of the Skin
    High frequency of airway infection and cough

The main indicator though is that when sufferers of these symptoms are not in the building, they immediately feel better.

The Role of CMMS in Going Green

The proper use of CMMS software ensures a smooth running facility at cost efficient levels, which lead to increased sustainability:

    Energy Efficiency: One area where maintenance sustainability is measured is the level of energy used by a building. When a computerized maintenance management system is properly employed, it can efficiently track and measure the amounts of energy generated and document any unexpected spikes in consumption. This makes it easier to make essential decisions on repair or replacement of assets, and possibly using higher energy efficient models in their place.

    Water Consumption: You can determine baseline use by month and evaluate any unusual water consumption far easier when using a modern maintenance management software. Facility equipment doesn't always remain efficient, and deviations in water consumption can indicate a change in operating condition that can lead to significant cost savings.

    Filter Changes: How often air filters are changed can have a large impact in airborne particles and mold spores. Documentation of filter changes can help maintain healthy indoor air quality levels.

    Tracking System Maintenance and Repairs: As systems degrade, they may consume more energy and contribute to poor air quality. Tracking and repairing systems is a key advantage when using web based CMMS products. Facility managers will also be able to evaluate if it is time to replace aging equipment instead of limping along to improve costs while also improving the indoor environment.

    Going Paperless: Perhaps one of the more sublime qualities of a web based asset management systems in the quest for a green building is the elimination of paperwork by automating the entire maintenance procedure. The integration of mobile technology in most CMMS programs further enhances this quality.

The path to Going Green is not as easy as it appears. However, with careful consideration of the conditions within your facility, it is easy to get started down the path. You know your facility. Pick an area where you feel there could be an issue and pursue opportunities to improve it. Your employees, clients, and facility occupants will be healthier and thank you for it.

John Harris is the Sr. Vice President of PSIwebware, providing innovative software solutions to help facility managers improve efficiency, accountability, and safety. PSIwebware is the developer of web based CMMS, EAM, Janitorial Software, Security Software, and Landscaping Software.