How Collaboration Can Make Buildings Greener and Better

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Collaboration has always been part of my DNA, from my early days as big sister; gathering the cousins around my brand new cassette tape recorder in Grandma’s bedroom on Christmas day to record us all singing a Christmas song (silly, but collaborative) to playing team sports in high school, and working on teams throughout my career, with a recent professional example being the launch of the Green Sigma Coalition back in July 2009.  I think I always intuitively understood that “it takes a team” of diverse people with different strengths to accomplish really big goals and to overcome complex challenges.

Collaboration isn’t always pretty or easy!


Never has this been more true than in the current built environment, which is growing in leaps and bounds in “newer” economies like China, Brazil and India, and which lines the streets of every large city and small town around the world.  Globally, commercial and residential buildings account for about one-third of the world’s energy consumption.  In the US, buildings account for more than 40% of total energy consumption, including 72% of energy generation. If current trends continue, by 2025 buildings worldwide will be the largest consumer of global energy, more than the transportation and industrial sectors combined. (Source: National Science and Technology Council).

The good news here is that there is lots of opportunity for collaboration, innovation and frankly, very interesting (hard) work within and across the industries that touch these buildings – at any stage of their lifecycle – even before they are built!

Some of the work required is in shaping and implementing voluntary initiatives, code development and standard evolution in order to accelerate the pace and pave the path for high performance green buildings of tomorrow.  I recently co-authored (collaborated) on an article with several colleagues at Schneider Electric for GreenBiz – How Companies Can Make Buildings Greener and Better |  Our conclusions were as follows:

“Only through the cooperation of industry, government and consumers can we launch and drive widespread adoption, voluntary or otherwise, of these transformational programs that pave the way for making all buildings high performance, sustainable structures. We believe open standards are the key to enabling deeper performance improvements and to widespread adoption. For example, a global alliance of major building automation companies brought the ZigBee Building Automation Standard to fruition. 24 companies that span different manufacturing sectors and sizes have undertaken pilots under ISO 50001. ISO 50001 is projected to have a huge impact on the world’s energy use – an estimated 60 percent of organizations are anticipated to be positively impacted by the initiative – all by giving multinational organizations a single, consistent, way to integrate energy management into their business operations. We believe that collaboration between businesses, academia and governments is crucial to addressing the energy dilemma the world faces today. Over time, these collaborations will help to make buildings better. By better, we mean not just more efficient and advanced, but easier to run, cheaper to maintain and provide occupants with a better end user experience.”

We suggested some simple (collaborative) steps for companies to follow:

  • Early participation in the development of standards or voluntary initiatives
  • As new technologies emerge and the industry evolves, continuous engagement in programs to enable improvement
  • Active implementation of programs, codes, and standards within our own buildings, and our products and solutions
  • Collaboration with customers and solution channels to ensure open standards are adopted in the market, and that all green buildings initiatives are yielding the anticipated value in terms of validated operational performance over time

We also talked about examples of our own commitment – our participation in developing the new USGBC LEED Demand Response credit, collaborating and promoting ZigBee Building Automation Standard, and walking the talk with early adoption of  ISO 50001 to name just a few.

In fact, I was involved just this week in calls with folks from Siemens, Lutron, IBM, Autodesk and Eaton discussing “what’s next” for the Green Sigma Coalition.  I am collaborating with a colleague within Schneider Electric on how to make sure an upcoming ASHRAE program will address the energy efficiency of the building itself – working our way through a 20+ year industry debate on measuring & tracking actual site energy use vs. “source” energy use (that’s another blog entry for sure), and I was on the phone yesterday with two industry colleagues who are going to be launching “green buildings databases” which will be available on the web for free – and will drive more transparency into the performance of buildings and the costs & benefits of greening our buildings.   At Schneider Electric, we will need to decide how/if to participate in these efforts as well.

Collaboration (and co-optition – another blog entry also perhaps) are simply basic daily tools in today’s work environment.  We want to hear what you are doing to make buildings greener and better – and perhaps we can collaborate (and innovate!).

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