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Get Smart About Sustainability

Adopting technologies that create facility efficiencies is good for business.

By Scott Mason

Sustainability and green initiatives have taken the business world by storm. Not only is it a healthier choice for the environment, but focusing on energy efficiency can do wonders for an organization’s bottom line.


More and more facilities managers are being asked to assist with their company’s sustainability program, as they can make a direct impact due to their involvement with building operations. FMs can do this by adding smart technologies to their facilities. 


Smart technologies are generally considered devices that utilize sensors, connectivity, data collection and artificial intelligence to give people better control and insight into different areas of building operations. Many FMs have already been tasked with implementing smart technology in their facilities portfolio. However, some are also at the starting line, looking for education and guidance on how to best install and operate smart tech.


Regardless of experience level, there’s always room for improvement in efforts to make facilities more sustainable.


 The Growth of Sustainable Facilities

Jay Fiske, Powerhouse Dynamics
Jay Fiske, Powerhouse Dynamics

As mentioned, sustainability is now a focus for many companies and corporations across the globe. But why are they making these efforts? Jay Fiske, President of Powerhouse Dynamics, said it starts with the consumer. “People are asking, ‘How is this product made?’ Or, ‘What kinds of efforts are you making to reduce the carbon intensity of your business?’”


Fiske said that shareholders and owners of public corporations are piggybacking on that sentiment and asking similar questions. “These metrics are important to many groups,” Fiske said. "People want to be able to measure, track and see that a company is making sustainability progress.”


Joshua Witte, Dollar Tree Stores
Joshua Witte, Dollar Tree Stores

Joshua Witte, Director of Energy and Sustainability at Dollar Tree Stores, agreed with Fiske’s assessment. “Sustainability and ESG have really become an investor-, shareholder- and consumer-driven movement in the corporate space,” he said. “I'd like to say it's purely altruistic in nature, but I'd be lying if I said that.”


But the push to make facilities more sustainable is financially beneficial, too. According to Fiske, businesses are finally seeing technologies with a better economic case compared to the past. “When LED lightbulbs first came out, they were really expensive, and it was kind of tough to justify the cost. You weren’t going to spend $50 for a single bulb,” he said. Now, businesses are investing in sustainable technologies and are seeing a very quick return on investment. “You can see these returns sometimes in under 24 months,” Fiske continued.


Smart Tech for Beginners


The charge is clear: Make stores more sustainable. And as mentioned, smart technology can aid in this effort. But for FMs who may be new to this space or type of directive, where should they start?


The ripples of change can be disruptive whenever you’re installing or introducing something new. To counter this and make things easier, Fiske recommended looking at “set it and forget it” technologies for those just starting. “If you’re installing internet-connected thermostats and sensors to automate the temperature schedules for your facility during occupied or unoccupied periods, you can set that up, let it roll and not have to do anything further,” he said. “That will provide a very nice return from the energy savings alone.”


Witte noted that most FMs will likely deal with scope 1 (direct energy emissions from sources owned by the company) and scope 2 (indirect emissions released into the atmosphere from purchased energy) of corporate emissions tracking. Because of this focus, he recommended bringing attention to efficiency-related technologies.


“These include adding high-efficiency HVAC units, transitioning to LED lighting or deploying energy management systems,” Witte explained. “You can get more granular with indoor air quality, irrigation and other areas that are controllable through efficiency measures. Those are easy places to apply technological solutions that can make the building more efficient and reduce carbon footprint.”


More Advanced Options 


Some FMs may have already addressed the suggestions listed above, but there are ways to continue making your building smarter to help with sustainability.


“You’ll want to move from what I call the hardware space to the software space,” Witte said. Several different software applications, which are now incorporating AI-based predictive analytics and machine learning, can be layered into your facilities and operating model. Carbon accounting platforms and refrigeration monitoring and tracking software are examples of more advanced sustainability technology that can prove extremely useful for FMs.


These software upgrades give FMs a more detailed view of what is happening in different facility areas. Fiske mentioned that Internet of Things (IoT) solutions, including one offered by his company, give facilities managers improved diagnostic capabilities. “There's more information available to you should you take advantage of it,” he said. “You can receive reports that look across your entire portfolio, say 3,000 rooftop HVAC units, and prioritize to say, ‘This subset really needs to be addressed this week as it’s a fairly urgent issue.’ It helps you prioritize how you roll your trucks. Another subset may be showing signs that they are underperforming. And while not a crisis today, you may want to make sure that when the technician is there doing preventative maintenance, they do a little bit more than just swap out the filters.”


This advanced technology makes your day-to-day operations easier. “It takes some of the thinking and the analysis off your plate,” Fiske said. “You just allow that automated guidance to direct you in prioritizing your time and your dollars in maintaining your facilities.”


Make the Impact


When ready to jump into the smart technology pool to improve sustainability, Fiske recommended first gaining a true understanding of what your organization’s goals are. “Often we're bringing different silos of an organization together, from facilities to operations or maybe an already-established sustainability group,” he said. “Proactively look around your organization and identify others who might benefit from some of these kinds of technologies. Reach out to them and talk about ways to approach the issues.”


Witte added that if you are still looking for guidance on the right approach, you can reach out to people outside of your organization for assistance. “The sustainability community is pretty tightknit,” he said. “Make sure you're utilizing all the resources at your disposal. Reach out to your peers and engage with different groups in the industry who can help guide you. Learn about the best practices that others have done and try to incorporate those as best you can into your program.”

Learn more about facilities sustainability practices through the ConnexFM ESG Committee.

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