How many times a day do property and facilities professionals hear these words and deal with products claiming to transform buildings to be just that; sustainable, efficient or green? Talk to any building owner and they’ll agree that lowering operating costs by way of energy efficiency is a standard goal across the board. Throughout history property and facilities professionals have looked for ways to become more efficient than their competitors, but what exactly are they looking to gain, or lose? Does public appeal drive the need to be green? Is it a conscious effort to be efficient for the environment? Or, do monetary savings drive an entire industry to invest in sustainability?

A recent poll conducted by the American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE) and Johnson Controls reported that 65% of healthcare professionals saw energy efficient programs as “very important.” However, when asked about their rationale, 59% said that the need to control cost is a greater motivator when investing in energy efficiency rather than environmental responsibility. In fact, cost-saving is the main reason most companies “go green.”

In 2007 building owners saw going green as a way to improve their public relations. Before the economic downward spiral hit, sustainability and the products that promoted it were seen as a “trend,” not only in the facility and property management industry, but in consumer spending as well. Capital was being spent on expensive green properties simply to gain exposure. Still, in the 2008 survey, 42% of owners say they would pay a premium for a green property, but in 2007 the same survey reported that 77% said they would pay more for a green property; a noticeable shift in priorities from just one year ago.

Now building owners are focusing on the cost-savings, not public exposure, that can come from sustainable, efficient, and green programs and systems. Of course, having a LEED certification will gain you positive views from the public, but as environmental activist and writer Bill Walsh puts it, “We need to see the lower utility bill,” he continues, “not overpay some LEED consultant.” More and more building operating plans are including energy-strategies staff education programs, approximately 41% in 2008. Having an educated team provides surety that their professionals don’t just have basic knowledge of systems; they are experts in implementation, maintenance and reparation. Property and facilities maintenance professionals must know how to benchmark their building’s performance to help compare, analyze and improve a building’s performance by reducing its cost to the owner and improving its sustainability rating.

According to a 2008 Green Survey of Existing Buildings, 70% of building owners have implemented some type of benchmarking system to monitor energy usage and efficiency. Another 80% reported that the money spent on sustainability efforts has helped to stabilize, and in some cases overcompensate, for the costs of energy efficiency programs and/or systems. Building Automation Systems (BAS), which are present in more than half of U.S. buildings over 100,00 square feet, are an easy way to monitor and control energy consumption in a building while reducing energy usage and maintaining a comfortable environment for staff and tenants. Most commonly, building owners see a 5-15% drop in energy costs depending on the state of the building. With bottom-line savings like that, it can be projected that by 2010 100% of buildings in the United States will have a BAS system.

Overall, we can tell that each factor; public opinion, environmentalism, and capital, have an effect on our industry and day-to-day operations. In the end, it is the educated and well-trained that will drive the property and facilities industry into a sustainable, efficient, and green world.

“But if we become complacent, and the status quo becomes the bar, we will have squandered the biggest part of what we could and should do for our nation, our planet and our children. And that’s just not acceptable.”

– Rick Fedrizzi, founding chairman of the US Green Building council in 1993