Green means integration, not just energy efficiency

As energy prices head for the stars and American businesses contract green fever, it’s tempting to overly focus on energy savings as a driver for greening your plants.
By Michael Ivanovich, Consulting-Specifying Engineer May 15, 2008

As energy prices head for the stars and American businesses contract green fever, it’s tempting to overly focus on energy savings as a driver for greening your plants.

Yes, energy provides a tangible, measurable benefit to businesses and the environment when it is wisely consumed and managed. Using less energy (i.e., that which comes from coal, natural gas and oil) reduces emissions and extraction impacts on the environment. Yes, reducing our dependency on oil and natural gas imports increases energy security. And, yes, using less energy reduces operating costs and makes future O&M budgets less sensitive to fuel-price fluctuations.

However, green buildings are more about integrated solutions than single-issue resolution. In a drive to reduce energy, we stand to repeat the mistakes of the 1970s, when fresh-air inlets were jammed shut with 2x4s; when every other light was turned off; when thermostats were turned down so low during the heating season and too high during the cooling season that people got uncomfortable (and unruly). In striving to resolve those energy problems, we created the sick building problem, and as a result we spent much of the 80s and 90s confronting mold, VOCs and comfort complaints.

As green fever spreads deeper into the manufacturing industry, plant engineers are going to be increasingly called to the table when facility decisions are being planned. At least, that’s supposedly the blueprint of green building processes %%MDASSML%% to involve operators and facility engineers earlier in construction and renovation projects to result in more realistic designs and to empower operating staffs with training and resources to maintain high levels of building performance. Therefore, your voice will be critical for averting critical mistakes that could be made for the best of intentions.

So, if a drive for energy savings, under the banner of greening your facility or as a retrocommissioning effort, could result in measures that would result in a sick building, then you need to say something. Productivity could be worsened. Absenteeism could increase. Morale could be impacted, leading to increased churn among workers. And, taken to the extreme, lawsuits could be filed if health or safety is impacted to the point where one or more workers feels justified in pursuing recourse.

In the face of such a situation, plant engineers need to remind project teams that saving energy could save money on one end, but cost a lot more on the other. It’s important to remind them that relevant standards for indoor air quality and comfort need to be maintained. Remind project teams that in some cases, improving a facility could result in higher energy costs. For example, if a system was improperly designed or installed such that required cooling or heating were not being provided, and, when corrected, more energy was consumed. Such instances need to result in new baselines for energy consumption, against which future energy-conservation measures would be compared.

And, of course, when called to the table, it’s important to have your shortlist of energy-saving measures ready. And your list of water-saving measures, IAQ-improvement measures and measures for decreasing liquid and solid wastes, use of pesticides and harsh cleaning agents, etc. Being a model of “integrated solutions” would walk the triple-bottom-line that the greenies talk so much about, i.e., green buildings being good for people, the environment and for business.

Author Information
Michael Ivanovich is chief editor of Consulting-Specifying Engineer, a sister publication of Plant Engineering. A veteran in the buildings industry who focuses on HVAC, green buildings and controls, he served as chief editor of HPAC Engineering for 10 years before joining CSE and also spent time as a research scientist in the fields of indoor-air quality, energy efficiency and information technology for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and other research institutions.