Creating a Smarter Building with Environmental Sustainability Software

by

ERP Analyst, Software Advice

Monitoring and conserving your property’s energy use is a full-time job. Personally, I have a difficult time remembering to adjust the thermostat when I leave the house, or to turn off lights in a room I’m not using. The problem is amplified by the fact that I have two roommates with the same disposition. Now imagine what that’s like if you are in charge of monitoring and conserving energy use at a 5,000-person office. Or how about a university full of similarly forgetful individuals?

For those of you who manage a facility, or multiple facilities, you know the myriad pain points that contribute to your environmental footprint can be overwhelming. Measuring, tracking and determining how to reduce consumption manually requires a small army of environmental auditors – even at a medium-sized facility. (And even that fails to catch all the right data at the right time.)

Fortunately, there’s an emerging branch of facility management software – environmental sustainability software – that’s geared toward creating smarter, more energy efficient buildings.

Building Energy Usage Key for Conservation

Keeping our buildings up and running is a very resource-intensive undertaking. Most people don’t realize just how much it takes to power our buildings. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publishes statistics on the resources buildings consume, and the figures may surprise you (they did me).

  • Buildings account for 65 percent of electricity use;
  • Improving efficiency can reduce energy use by 25 percent; and,
  • Efficiency increases can cut 33 percent of carbon emissions.

While it isn’t surprising that it takes a lot of energy to keep our homes and offices running, these statistics suggest something that can be done about it. Making changes to energy consumption habits (like turning off light switches) can have collective benefits for the environment. But for some, making these improvements is about more than being altruistic – it’s about saving some serious money.

For instance, according to the EPA, making improvements to a building’s energy efficiency can lower maintenance costs by 10 percent. So theoretically, a company with a $100,000 a month electricity bill could put $10,000 back into company coffers to invest in other things. A key component to realizing these types of cost savings is having the right software capabilities to track benefits and continuously make improvements. Because as physicist Lord Kelvin rightly pointed out – “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” Environmental sustainability software allows companies to do both.

What is Environmental Sustainability Software?

Environmental sustainability functionality is one of the most recent additions to facilities management software. Because it’s optimized to assess resource usage, environmental sustainability software addresses the issues you’d expect – like energy efficiency and waste management. But it also monitors more unconventional factors, such as pollution absorption rates.

With rising energy costs and a squeeze on the world’s non-renewable resources, environmental sustainability software is quickly becoming an important asset to the facility manager’s portfolio. Why? Because these systems offer simplified ways to monitor a building’s consumption. For example, the system can sync up with the data gathered and stored by your utilities company. Or, data can be recorded in-house with hardware such as the PowerMonitor 1000, which can hook up to the facility’s energy meter.

While gathering the data is a relatively easy task, the real challenge is crunching the numbers into meaningful and actionable data. To achieve this, the software runs complex analytics and business intelligence functions to help monitor and record metrics – such as total tons of CO2 emissions and the electrical usage in kilowatt hours (kWhs). These monitored metrics are then turned into graphs and charts for historical trend analyses. Some systems, like Tririga TREES, are advanced enough to map out a facility’s space utilization and then suggest arrangements that net the greatest energy emissions reductions.

Two Successful Environmental Software Implementations

If an emerging branch of software is to be taken seriously, there needs to be real-world proof that the software is worth investing in by yielding a positive return on investment (ROI). Below I’ve highlighted several facilities that are realizing benefits from implementing an environmental sustainability software system.

Bentley University
A few years ago, Bentley University set an ambitious goal to become carbon neutral – or making the net release of carbon zero through purchasing offsets. To make that a reality, Bentley established a sustainability task force to determine which operational factors contributed the most to their environmental footprint. Not surprisingly, the task force found that energy usage constituted roughly 49 percent of their greenhouse gas emissions (a figure slightly higher than the national average cited earlier). Much like other facilities, electricity usage was the obvious target for reduction.

Since Bentley University already used Infor EAM – Asset Sustainability Edition to automate work orders, they decided to test out the functionality of Infor EAM’s environmental sustainability software. The results were impressive. In their first year, Bentley shaved energy consumption by 10 percent. This amounted to a reduction of roughly 2 million kilowatt-hours (kWh). This reduction translated to having the same impact shutting off the electricity in all 48 facilities for a month.

Nokia
In 2003, Nokia decided it was time to take a smarter approach to office space and energy utilization. To find out where and how they could reduce energy and carbon emissions, Nokia deployed Tririga TREES to monitor their workforce operations throughout the Middle East, Europe and Africa. The system was responsible for monitoring 402 locations total – tracking everything from office space usage to the energy consumption rates of a particular location.

Building monitoring, coupled with energy reduction suggestions from the system, led to Nokia reducing electricity use by 8,000,000 kWh (a 7 percent reduction). Beyond the software, Nokia is also constructing new buildings more efficiently under LEED Gold Certification to realize further reductions from the start. Because Tririga TREES integrates with ENERGY STAR, an energy efficiency standards agency, Nokia is able to benchmark their environmental progress against other facilities of a similar size.

Without a system of constant monitoring and continuous improvement, neither of these facilities could have achieved such impressive reductions. As environmental issues become increasingly important in the corporate world, we think sustainability software will play a more crucial role in helping organizations create smarter buildings that are good for the environment and a company’s bottom line.

What experience do you have with facility management software? Do you see other ways that software can be used to create smarter buildings? Please leave your thoughts. Alternatively, you can send me a note via Google+

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