Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sustainable Facilities: Taking a Deeper Dive

It's said that buildings (the construction and maintenance of) account for nearly half of the United States' greenhouse gas emissions, so companies that commit to environmental sustainability should look to their real estate portfolio for opportunities to reduce their environmental impact. Since we don't manufacture and since we're not in the extractives industry, the majority of my company's environmental footprint comes from the operation of our real estate portfolio.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not an expert in buildings and facilities management. Our Real Estate team has been exploring energy management technologies, alternative energy generation, water conservation tools and lower-impact construction techniques for years. Stepping into my job as the company's sustainability strategist, I've been playing catch-up and learning about the impact that "greening" our facilities can have.

Last week, I accompanied our head of facilities and a facilities manager at one of our locations to a day-long seminar on sustainable corporate real estate in Washington, DC. I was a bit apprehensive at first, since I don't have expertise in facilities management and I wasn't sure that the level of detail being discussed would hold my interest.

However, I was pleased at the seminar's balance of inspirational thought leadership and practical implementation tips. It's not often that I attend a conference or event where I walk away with some new ideas and ways to bring them to life.

And while we've done a fair amount to make our facilities more sustainable (including Energy Star and LEED certification), I know there's a lot more that we can do. Our primary challenge, like many other companies, lies in the fact that we don't own all the buildings we occupy, so we have to work with landlords who may not be open to our sustainability suggestions. Furthermore, we're rarely the sole tenant in a building and sub-metering isn't available in most commercial buildings yet. It's therefore impossible for us to understand the impacts (from an environmental and cost perspective) that sustainability initiatives potentially can have.

Nonetheless, it seems like there are some interesting tools out there to help practitioners with "greening" their real estate portfolio. A few that I'm planning to review in the near future are Energy Star's Portfolio Manager, Tririga's TREES software (despite a horrible, horrible experience with Tririga at my last company) and another proprietary system used by one of the presenting companies.

In addition, I learned a lot about green cleaning, alternative workplace strategies and some pretty cool new technologies. All topics that, a few years ago, I would never have guessed could contribute to my success as a CSR practitioner.

No comments:

Post a Comment