Reaching the Green Building Tipping Point for Retrofits

Buildings account for 40 percent of energy usage, nearly 40 percent
of total CO2 output and 12 percent of potable water consumption.
When we add to the equation the amount of waste and vehicle
transportation that are tied to buildings, we can sense the
magnitude of the impact our nation’s buildings have on the

We need to change, but it won’t happen overnight.

When we survey the green buildings landscape, we still see the
majority of target=”_blank”>LEED certifications are design and construction
projects. This makes perfect sense.

From the moment a new green building is conceived, all involved –
from architect and engineers to sub-contractors – are all working
towards meeting specification requirements and materials as well as
resource guidelines before the building opens its doors. But that
is well before it has to face the greatest challenge to optimal
building performance – the building’s occupants.

We are beginning to see change within this context, albeit not as
rapidly as needed.

If we’re serious about reducing the environmental impact of
buildings, addressing energy independence, using renewable energy
resources, conserving water and slowing waste streams, we must make
greening existing buildings a greater priority.

class=”view view-related-inline view-id-related_inline view-display-id-default view-dom-id-1”>

In fact, using LEED certification and registration data as an
indication of green building market trends, greening existing
buildings is finally achieving serious numbers. While existing
buildings only represent 4 percent of LEED certified square
footage, they now account for 20 percent of LEED registered square
feet. This is a positive trend – spurred by a combination of
energy prices, environmental awareness and generational shifts –
that if continued, presents the greatest opportunity to positively
impact the environment since green building became prominent early
this decade.

There are significant challenges to greening existing buildings.
The reality is that green – especially in an existing building –
is multi-disciplinary. Green, in most cases, requires coordination
of competing priorities, from occupant comfort and productivity to
energy efficiency waste reduction. All too often, multiple
stakeholders have responsibility over different green aspects of a
building, while budgets are tight and daily workloads are

Green initiatives are typically embraced by building occupants, but
can be fleeting when behavior change is involved. While
environmental responsibility is more visible and desired than ever,
building occupants might balk when forced to return silverware and
plates to the cafeteria instead of tossing disposables, manually
turning on lights if working later due to lighting schedule
changes, or giving up personal desktop printer for a networked

Ultimately, the greatest challenge to greening existing buildings
is financial. While rising energy prices and shifting attitudes are
making green efforts a greater priority, most organizations are
faced with budgetary constraints and stringent return on investment
requirements. In this context, few organizations bundle green
retrofit activities, but pursue individual efforts piece meal and
make financial justifications based on strict ROI criteria, or
through a more qualitative lens such as employee morale.

Look to LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations
& Maintenance rating system as a guideline to put it in
context. But remember that LEED does not reward pre-retrofit versus
post-retrofit improvement; it rewards a building that operates
according to specific performance metrics and goals, including
energy efficiency performance, indoor environmental quality, and
O&M policies and procedures that reflect environmentally
responsible, high-performance building standards. In many cases, a
significant energy retrofit won’t be enough to meet LEED EBOM

However, whether pursuing LEED certification or not, the rating
system is an ideal guideline. If you don’t know where to start,
here are some ideas:

  • Benchmarking the building’s energy performance using Energy
    Star Portfolio Manager.

  • Meter as much of the building as possible. If you can’t measure
    how much energy the building is using it’s to hard to pinpoint
    areas of optimization and savings.

  • Invest in an energy reporting and monitoring software

  • Evaluate current policies and procedures regarding areas such
    as purchasing and recycling.

  • Engage the building occupants, and make sure that everyone is
    aware of what you are doing, why you are doing it, and where you
    are going.

When it comes to the cost of sustainability measures, some are
easier to measure than others.

Energy conservation is truly the dollars and cents of
sustainability, and will continue to play that role in the future.
In any building there is typically “low hanging fruit” that can
yield significant savings, such as lighting retrofits, Building
Automation System optimization or mechanical system improvements.
These are measurable savings, and can easily be translated into CO2
reduction equivalents that organizations are using as metrics

If together we can tie the savings from a retrofit with the often
intangible benefits of green – market differentiation, employee
retention, customer loyalty, worker productivity – we have gone
past the tipping point for the green movement. Are we there yet?
Not quite, but we’re close; we just have a little more work to

Ari Kobb heads a range of sustainability, energy and green building
initiatives at
target=”_blank”>Siemens Building

This article was originally published on December 16, 2009
in Greener Buildings. It is reproduced here with the kind
permission of the author.


You can return to the main Market News page, or press the Back button on your browser.