Planning for Sustainability

Blog Post

Planning for Sustainability


By Susan Buchanan, Senior Director, Assessment Services

Several years ago, the facilities group at a leading college in Massachusetts integrated sustainability into ongoing capital planning by undertaking a program that included concurrent green building and facility condition assessments. A team of skilled assessors gathered critical condition, performance and sustainability information across all four of the college’s campuses. By combining sustainability practices within normal maintenance and operations and ranking buildings by goal, the college was able to prioritize its capital spending plan for each asset while still targeting the projects, deferred maintenance and upgrade opportunities across the entire portfolio. This strategy has assisted the college in reducing its carbon footprint.

With detailed information about the costs and benefits of potential green investments, you can effectively evaluate which initiatives will ultimately provide the greatest results.

The many potential greening initiatives you can undertake compete with other capital and operational investments, including systems renewal, building renovations, and new construction. Green investments should be assessed in the context of all building requirements.

Consider these three steps when planning for sustainability initiatives:

1. Establish Framework

Begin by establishing a framework based on your organization’s goals. When integrating condition and sustainability assessments with your organization’s initiatives, take financial metrics into account. What is the cost of the sustainable alternative as opposed to an in-kind replacement? How long is the lifecycle of each option? What will the payback of the sustainable option be?

2. Establish Metrics

Next, establish key performance metrics that will be used to set a baseline, identify relevant green opportunities and measure progress. After the performance metrics have been established, such as energy, water and waste to name a few, you can identify green opportunities while also looking at overall facility condition and operations. Common green opportunities include high-efficiency lighting controls and sensors, water-conserving bathroom fixtures, automated building management systems, indigenous landscapes and materials with recycled content or bio-based materials.

3. Evaluate Opportunities

Once you identify the opportunities, the next step is to evaluate them in the context of the overall capital plan. Take into account initial cost differences between using sustainable alternatives and conventional improvements along with the savings over time. The best way to evaluate all the options is to set a list of parameters that represent important priorities, which may include cost, potential energy or water savings, and impact on overall facility condition. Using these parameters, you can make an informed, data-driven decision.

Sustainability in Practice

With the right framework and tools in place, you can evaluate the sustainability of your existing facilities, plan to reduce your environmental impact, increase your energy and water efficiency and cost savings and promote a healthier building environment. Whether you already have a sophisticated sustainability program or are newly engaged in this effort, it is desirable to evaluate and prioritize green options while remaining aligned with the overall business mission.

This blog post is derived from Susan Buchanan’s article, “Planning for Sustainability,” which originally ran on on December 1, 2010. To read the full article, visit here

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