Balancing Multiple Objectives

High performance buildings are sustainable buildings, in more ways than one. The conscientious, efficient use of resources aligns to both environmental and economic objectives. However, developing a performance action plan is a balancing act.

A building’s environment is an interconnected system which needs to be aligned with an organization’s multiple goals. When considering an action to achieve a particular objective, one must investigate the positive and negative effects it might have on other mission-critical objectives.

For example, raising the temperature a few degrees during the hot summer months to reduce energy use and air conditioning costs might downgrade working conditions for employees. The negative consequences of reduced productivity and higher employee turnover may counteract any operational cost savings.

A high performance buildings specialist must consider the direct and indirect impacts of any recommended actions.

Energy Conservation

Reducing operational cost is the number-one reason why organizations want to reduce energy consumption. It makes sense: Energy-related costs are often one of the largest line items in an operating budget.

Reducing energy use may align to the mission for other reasons, too: A company that is socially responsible in its business operations may qualify for inclusion in a green fund, which makes it more appealing to individuals who are interested in conscious investing. In higher education, research indicates that many students are willing to pay higher tuition for colleges that have a sustainable campus.


There are many strategies for reducing energy use. The best way to identify which actions will have the greatest impact—short and long term—is to conduct a facility-wide audit to profile current energy use and identify areas to lean out waste.

Many energy-saving solutions are easy and affordable. The U.S. federal government estimates that office building owners can save between 5 percent and 20 percent on energy bills without significant capital investment. (FEMP O&M Guide, 2004.) Strategies that shift the time of energy use to optimize the utility rate structure can reduce cost—and these actions often require no capital outlay at all. Simply switching to more efficient light bulbs can generate substantial savings.

High performance buildings professionals can determine other places where installing new, more energy-efficient equipment can deliver a solid financial return without disrupting the user experience.

A predictive service strategy also helps maintain energy efficiency by maintaining equipment at its peak operational levels.

During annual “re-commissioning,” building professionals adjust control settings that may have been manually altered, restoring the optimal settings. They also modify control settings to reflect current facility uses and conditions which may have changed since the original design.

Anticipated Results

Reducing energy consumption may be one of the greatest opportunities for organizations to reduce per-unit costs and remain cost-competitive. And, of course, it contributes to the message of environmental stewardship.

Water Conservation

The scarcity of clean water is a growing global concern. Lower water tables are hindering agriculture in some areas. In other places, lack of potable water is the leading case of disease. In the U.S., reducing water consumption has an immediate and direct impact on water and sewer utility costs.

High water treatment and sewer costs are unlikely to be reduced through any means other than conservation. Aging, inadequate water treatment facilities and sewer systems would cost many millions of dollars to upgrade or repair—and the funding is simply not available. Conservation to live within current capacities is the logical economic solution, and it provides obvious environmental benefits: Less water will be drawn from strained reservoirs and water tables, and we will reduce the polluted water outflow to the ecosystem.


High performance buildings professionals look for ways to reduce water consumption without undermining the occupant experience. There are plenty of opportunities in most situations.

Upgrading equipment—dishwashers, toilets, washing machines—to newer water-saving models is one of the most obvious ways to reduce consumption. They perform the same function with less water-per-use.

Automatic shut-offs and flow restrictors can be installed on sinks in washrooms and commercial kitchens.

Some buildings can benefit from the re-use or reallocation of water; for example, using ‘gray water’ to flush toilets.

Alternative treatment options, such as ozone systems, can lessen water use in areas like laundries compared to conventional chlorine set-ups.

Other effective approaches include installing alternative landscapes which require little or no irrigation to maintain, and that use absorbent surfaces to reduce storm water runoff and the related sewer fees.

Anticipated Results

Using less water reduces cost. But there are benefits beyond lower utility bills. Using less water reduces wear and tear on the equipment and systems that use water, thereby diminishing downtime and maintenance. Long term, when entire communities focus on minimizing water consumption, municipalities can delay upgrades to aging and inadequate treatment facilities—and postpone the inevitable tax and fee increases.

Operational Sustainability

Environmental responsibility and compliance is playing an increasingly important role in everyday decision-making. Ways to reduce waste streams, minimize natural resource use and cut transportation distances are more important, and more readily available, than ever before.

Beyond voluntary programs, a growing body of environmental regulations is having an impact on direct operational costs—and even on the ability to continue operations. A boiler that is shut down for environmental non-compliance can have broad implications for the organization.

In the realm of environmental impact, there are four main areas to balance:

Use of materials- Reducing materials consumed by leveraging purchasing programs which emphasize the use of recycled and local materials and supply chain management to reduce the overall impact of operations.

Reducing outputs- Lowering waste output through technologies and practices such as maintaining equipment to keep emissions low, installing treatment and pollution controls, or simply changing cleaning and processing materials.

Proper waste handing- The waste leaves the building can lessen environmental impact and, in some cases, mitigate costs. Some waste can even be separated into materials that can be reused, generating extra revenue.

Managing, documenting and communicating environmental compliance- Failing to track refrigerant use or emissions can result in fees, fines and other penalties. Proper documentation is critical and the organization must be able to prove compliance. With some discharges, the timing or rate can matter more than the amount. Communicating environmental compliance can differentiate the organization for investors and clients. The information may even be used in science curricula.

Broad Implications

Environmental responsibility and compliance are critical goals for multiple reasons. Today’s environmental programs can be used to educate, motivate and build a sense of community. The cost implications also cannot be ignored. While the expense of proper waste management and environmentally-sound operations may seem excessive, the fees and fines for non-compliance can be even higher—and the non-monetary costs associated with a forced shut-down can be broad and long-term.