Building Orientation

Last week we conducted a building orientation for all staff members. This idea came out of the MHLS Green Team. During one of our meetings our facilities guy was commenting on how a few staffers were consistently leaving on the lights at night which was wasting electricity. The conversation that followed revealed that some of us didn’t know where the light switches were for certain lights and others were not sure it was our job to turn them off (thinking there were still others in the building).

We designed an hour long program, limited it to 6 staff people at a time and did a couple of sessions to make sure everyone had a chance to participate. We stated it was mandatory (but that we knew they would come along even if it wasn’t!)

Before the sessions we implemented some signage we had agreed on and labeled all light switches.

We met around a table to begin and
1) Reviewed the “Building Basics”

  • building operating hours
  • alarm
  • opening and closing procedures
  • lighting basics

2) “Safety First” alerted staff to

  • emergency procedures
  • fire safety
  • some basic personal precautions to take to protect themselves when leaving the building after hours

3) MHLS “Goes Green” Challenge Results

  • shared the results of the Challenge in which they all took part (more than 120 ideas were shared!)
  • let everyone know some of the things that were already being done that had been suggested
  • what energy efficiency items have been included in our facility plan (new windows and solar panels)
  • reviewed the building recycling opportunities and guidelines
  • shared tips from Staff gathered through the Challenge:
    • “Top Ten Tips” for Conserving Energy – some ideas were very specific to our building but here are ones that work anywhere:
      • turn off computers and monitors at the end of every day
      • use the Power Options setting on PCs to help machines save energy while idle
      • unplug equipment used infrequently (pencil sharpeners, laminator)
      • use the stairs rather than the elevator
    • Paper: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Then we toured through the building, starting at the door everyone enters and leaves through. On each floor we pointed out:

  • how doors lock, when they should be locked
  • fire extinguishers
  • circuit breaker boxes
  • light switches
  • where lights could be shut off when no one is in the area
  • safety tips (like closing blinds on the first floor at the end of the day)

It went amazingly smoothly. Everyone “played along” and were helpful, coming up with more ideas along the way – motion detectors for the bathroom lights to help make sure lights are off when no one is in there, glow in the dark tape on key light switches, tips for using a fire extinguisher… it was great.

Have I mentioned yet how glad I am we did the MHLS Green Team? ;-)

Employee Health & Productivity

A study out of Michigan State University earlier this year provides some solid data on the link between green buildings and increased employee health and productivity.

Effects of Green Buildings on Employee Health and Productivity” by Amanjeet Singh, MS, Matt Syal, PhD, Sue
C. Grady, PhD, MPH, and Sinem Korkmaz, PhD was published in the peer reviewed journal, the American Journal of Public Health in July 2010. They focused on the effects of indoor environmental quality (IEQ). IEQ is broader than IAQ (indoor air quality) in that it encompasses  all aspects of the indoor setting including air quality, ventilation, thermal comfort, visual comfort (lighting and views), ergonomics and noise.

“… we found that improved IEQ contributed to reductions in perceived absenteeism and work hours affected by asthma, respiratory allergies, depression, and stress and to selfreported improvements in productivity. These preliminary findings indicate that green buildings may positively affect public health.”

“Are Commercial LED Replacements Ready for Prime Time?”

Article from ecogeek.org:

“Although we are big proponents for LED lighting, the US Department of Energy has recently issued a couple of reports warning that many so-called replacement lamps for fluorescent fixtures are not performing at adequate levels. In most cases, fluorescent tubes are still a better choice, providing more lumens per watt than most LEDs. Although LEDs may eventually replace many other lighting options, they aren’t a magic bullet just because they’re LEDs. You should be careful and find out more about them before making the switch.”

Turn ‘em Off or Leave ‘em On?

Ever have this discussion with someone? Is it more energy efficient to leave lights on or turn them off?

Some speculate that the “start-up” energy it takes to turn on lights is more than it would take to just leave them on, others contend that of course you’d shut them off! Even if you’re just dodging out of your office to visit the WC?

The US Department of Energy weighs in:

Incandescent Lighting

Incandescent lights (or bulbs) should be turned off whenever they are not needed. Nearly all types of incandescent light bulbs are fairly inexpensive to produce and are relatively inefficient. Only about 10%–15% of the electricity that incandescent lights consume results in light—the rest is turned into heat. Turning the light(s) off will keep a room cooler, an extra benefit in the summer. Therefore, the value of the energy saved by not having the lights on will be far greater than the cost of having to replace the bulb.

Fluorescent Lighting

The cost effectiveness of turning fluorescent lights off to conserve energy is a bit more complicated. For most areas of the United States, a general rule-of-thumb for when to turn off a fluorescent light is if you leave a room for more than 15 minutes, it is probably more cost effective to turn the light off. Or in other words, if you leave the room for only up to 15 minutes, it will generally be more cost effective to leave the light(s) on. In areas where electric rates are high and/or during peak demand periods, this period may be as low as 5 minutes.

Fluorescent lights are more expensive to buy, and their operating life is more affected by the number of times they are switched on and off, relative to incandescent lights. Therefore, it is a cost trade-off between saving energy and money by turning a light off “frequently” and having to replace the bulbs “more” frequently. This is because the reduction in usable lamp life due to frequent on/off switching will probably be greater than the benefit of extending the useful life of the bulb from reduced use. By frequent we mean turning the light off and on many times during the day.

A 2008 article in Scientific American gives you license to turn off the lights:

A simple rule of thumb that balances both concerns is to shut off fluorescents if you’re planning to leave a room for more than five minutes, according to Francis Rubinstein, a staff scientist in the Building Technologies Department at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division. Mary Beth Gotti, manager of the GE Lighting & Electrical Institute in Cleveland, agrees. For all practical purposes, “it almost always makes sense to turn the lights off,” Gotti says. “From an environmental standpoint, the best way to save energy is to turn off the things that you’re not using.”

Rubinstein notes that, even for fluorescents, the cost of electricity over a bulb’s lifetime far outpaces the cost of the bulb itself. “Even if you switch on and off a fluorescent light frequently,” he says, “the slight reduction in lamp life is a small effect relative to the energy savings you accomplish by being a good citizen.” Gotti adds that the reduction in lamp life from frequent on-and-off switching can often be counterbalanced by the extension of “calendar life”—the actual passage of time between lightbulb replacements—that results from using the bulb for fewer hours.

Outlets & Switches

Air infiltration compromises your “conditioned air.” Conditioned air is air you are spending money to change – either making it warmer or cooler. Air infiltration works against your conditioned air in the summer and winter months.

Your building envelope – foundation, walls, windows, ceilings and roof – has lots of spots for air infiltration. One you might not expect are the outlets and light switches located on exterior walls. During the winter months if you hold your hand over outlets and switches located on exterior walls you can actually feel cool air coming in! At least I can in my house…

While you might not want to do this yourself, here’s what’s involved (thanks to re-nest.com’s Home Hacks series)

Green Team Meeting #2

Today was our second Green Team meeting and it went really well.

  • We reviewed the benchmark data gathered since our last meeting:
    • electricity usage in both buildings
    • gas consumption for both buildings
    • paper recycling levels
    • solid waste recycling levels
  • Options for providing safe drinking water for staff and guests were reviewed in light of the decision to stop providing serving bottled water – bottleless water cooler option looking very attractive (not to mention a lot cheaper than what we’ve been doing). Decided we needed to think about it more and will revisit this at our next meeting.
  • Reviewed the results of our complimentary lighting audit done for by a consulting firm that works with our utility company. I need to double check the numbers but it looks like we could completely convert our lighting in the office building to T8s, get a 50% rebate from our utility AND payback the remaining cost through energy savings in 1.21 years. Not to mention the on-going savings after that.
  • Then came the fun stuff. Over the past three weeks we challenged our coworkers to come up with “green” ideas. Anything goes – that was the only parameter! I received 130 ideas! I’ll share the best ideas in a later post but just wanted to say that at this stage the act of asking everyone had so much benefit:
    • Staff buy-in for change
    • Revelation that some were unaware of existing recycling and energy saving rules already in place building-wide – really made us think about how we convey the rules and how staff are oriented to the way things should be done
    • Behavior is already starting to change – more people are turning off lights in unoccupied offices and rooms, more people are using ceramic mugs rather than disposable cups for coffee…
    • Excitement that they can help the System save money by changing how we do things – people were so anxious to help, it was wonderful
  • Next steps identified:
    • Codify existing rules related to recycling and energy savings and create a staff web page so people can reference the info – things like what is recyclable, who is responsible for turning off lights, making sure everyone is turning off computers/monitors at the end of the day…
    • Create tip sheet on reducing paper use based on the input from staff gathered over the last month
    • Work with the Computer Operations Department to audit all computers and printers in the building to make sure they have basic energy saving settings in place and to develop how-to info for people that want to adjust the energy saving settings
    • Use input from staff to create a checklist of things they can personally do to reduce energy consumption
    • Develop a staff education event to orient them to the building, how they can play a part in reducing, reusing and recycling

So for those of you in our member libraries – the Business Office won the MHLS Go Green Challenge – they came up with twice as many ideas as the other two floors. Doris, our receptionist, was the champ, I got more ideas from her than anyone in the building! Go Green!

“Let Green Creep”

Check out two great articles that came out in May, one written by Louise Schaper, the other a Q&A with her:

Louise is the former (now retired) director of the Fayetteville Public Library (AK). She spearheaded one of the first LEED libraries in the country and in recognition of her achievements Fayetteville was named LJ Library of the year in 2005.

In the Let Green Creep article Louise speaks to the issue of greening operations, not just a facility. It is an important lesson to be “green all over,” to not let greening end once your building gets its certificate of occupancy but to really live green in a green building.

Energy Star Program: Flaws & The Future

As mentioned in a previous post, an attendee at one of my workshops asked about flaws reported in the Energy Star program. Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • The Government Accountability Office (GAO) played “secret shopper,” or in this case secret manufacturer, and tried to get some crazy products certified by the Energy Start program – gas powered alarm clock anyone? Of 20 fictitious products 15 were certified which was a clear sign the program is unreliable. Their report was released in March and was widely covered in the press.
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DoE) announced in mid-April, 2010 that they were enacting “sweeping changes” to safeguard the program and restore credibility:
  • Manufacturers wishing to qualify their products as Energy Star must submit complete lab reports and results for review and approval by EPA prior to labeling;
  • Test results must be from an EPA/DoE approved and accredited lab.
  • Lab testing will now be required for all 60 product categories, previously they were only required for certain categories like windows, doors, skylights and compact fluorescent lighting.
  • The EPA will no longer rely on an automated approval process.
  • The DOE conducted off-the-shelf product testing for some of the most common household appliances and a recent Inspector General audit found that 98% of products tested fully complied with Energy Star requirements.

While these changes were necessary and their delay in being enacted could be blamed on the explosive growth of the program there now is a haze of doubt surrounding the once comforting light blue Energy Star label we all have learned to look for. Another consideration is that there is additional cost for manufacturers to have their products certified due to the required lab results, adding to the oft-heard complaint that it costs more to be green/innovate green.

My take on the Energy Star program is that it is better than nothing. Consumers are awash in products claiming to be energy efficient and the Energy Star program is one of few tools available to help cut through the chatter to what really pays off. I say we not dismiss Energy Star but give it the chance it deserves to redeem itself in the wake of the GAO findings.

Greening Presentation for Onondaga County Public Library 5.7.10

CFL Buying Tips

“Starting in January 2012, all lamp technology sold in the U.S., including both incandescent and compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) will be required to meet efficiency requirements set by the Energy Independence Security Act.” [Greenbiz.com]

Meanwhile, as you go to purchase CFLs it is important to keep in mind that not all bulbs are created equal…