Building a coalition for clean energy and green buildings
Because so many government buildings are older, including them in a community’s green initiative can be problematic. However, since Orlando, Fla., launched its Green Works Orlando program in 2007 the city has completed upgrading eight LEED-certified municipal buildings, saved more than $1 million in reduced energy costs annually, and expects to reach $5 million in annual utility savings by 2015.
To help city employees understand the changes, Nate Boyd, city energy project manager, says his team met with the leadership of each building or department to discuss the historical headaches and problems and what they wanted to correct.
“When you talk about energy efficiency and putting in controls, people think someone in city hall will be controlling their thermostat and they don’t really like that,” Boyd says. However, showing mangers what changes would be made, how they would have control over their environment, and how the changes could improve their environment changed their perspective.
“I found the best way to meet is eye-to-eye in their building, talk about the controls, what information they will have access to [to view online], what temperature set points they want to have in the building, and how much adjustability they want,” Boyd says. “Leadership is aware of their budget, so they won’t be ridiculous about the temperature set points. By giving them control over their range of temperatures and information on how to contact facilities to adjust the temperature range as needed, we found there’s hardly any headwind going into projects.”
Of course, it also helps when facilities staff is mindful about how changes typically affect employees. For instance, when retrofitting lighting with LED bulbs, Boyd says his staff paid attention to lighting hue. “If people are used to fluorescent lighting and you change it with lighting that goes too far into the blue side of the spectrum, it will give the office an industrialized look and people won’t like it,” he cautions. “If people are used to an environment with a lot of incandescent lighting and you do an LED retrofit in that facility, you have to be mindful not to deviate too much from the [lighting] color they’re used to seeing or they immediately won’t be satisfied and think you’re saving energy and sacrificing their ability to see — even if you’re giving them more light at reduced wattage.”
A good way to test how changes will affect employees is for the facilities or sustainability team leaders to use themselves as guinea pigs, says Jon Ippel, Orlando sustainability director. Before implementing any technology full-scale throughout the city, Ippel says the facilities division tries it first. “It’s a good way to test technology before making massive investments in something that may not work. Politically, it doesn’t put us in an awkward position if, say a LED manufacture goes defunct or has a spotty product, because the team has tried it out first on a limited basis.”
Reinvest Energy Saving
Once cities or counties being realizing savings resulting from energy efficiency improvements, Ippel suggests building on those successes by reinvesting in additional upgrades.
Orlando uses a city-provided revolving loan fund for energy efficiency projects. With most projects, Ippel projects there will be a seven-year return on investment. So even if changing out chill water in building cooling systems has a 10- to 12-year payback, Ippel incorporates that project with other energy efficiency retrofits with a quicker return on investment to meet the seven-year threshold. Once projects begin reducing operating costs, the city reinvests the savings into additional energy efficiency projects. “Because of this financing mechanism, we don’t lose funds because of budgeting restrictions and we can redeploy those funds for additional sustainability initiatives,” Boyd explains.
A city can’t expand energy efficiency projects without first touting the successes of the initial projects, Ippel emphasizes. He suggests developing talking points about the energy and environmental improvements, how staff is spending money designated toward improvements, how much the municipality paying for utilities compared to costs before energy efficiency improvements were made, how staff has found a more efficient way of using scarce taxpayer funds, and how progress measures up to the project return on investment.
“Folks within city or county government may have different motivations for green initiatives. I’m coming at it from the sustainability angle, the chief financial officer is clearly focused on financial savings, and others may be interested in improvement in the quality of workspace,” Ippel says. “If when talking about your sustainability successes you hit on these different areas simultaneously, then you will be able to build a deeply motivated coalition.”