There are simple software programs that will run the heating, cooling and ventilation of your building. But now there are software programs that will not only automate it, but actually understand when the building is occupied and unoccupied and can optimize the equipment that heats and cools your building.
Here's an example: An old boiler heats the water to 180 degrees. As soon as heat was needed, the boiler sent 180-degree water through the pipes to heat the building. It didn't matter what the outside temperature was. But now, with modern software controls, the HVAC system knows if it's 50 degrees outside or below zero. If it's 50, and you need to heat the building, you probably only need 110-degree water to send to the pipes to make enough heat to make people feel comfortable. You only need to increase the indoor temperature by 10 degrees to obtain thermal comfort. So why heat the water to 180 degrees? 110-degree water will achieve your thermal comfort goal. When it's zero degrees outside, we've got to heat the water to 180 degrees so that enough heat is sent throughout the building. But between 50-degree outside air and zero-degree outside air, there's a range of how much we have to heat the water in the boiler. The more we heat the water, the more energy it costs us. So you're optimizing.
At a school where the teachers come in at 7 a.m., when do you start the boiler to heat up that building? If it was zero degrees all night long, it might require starting the boiler 90 minutes before 7 a.m. But if it was 40 degrees most of the night? Maybe the furnace only has to kick on 45 minutes before the teachers arrive. Whatever machines you're using in your facilities, there are software programs that will rate and optimize how those machines are being used.
Because of sophisticated information technology, the people who are operating buildings are able to look at a building and their software to see if there's a problem before it affects the people inside the space. They can troubleshoot and come up with a dollar value if they don't fix that problem today; they can calculate that it will cost X amount of dollars in energy consumption on an annualized basis. They're using the information to help them be more sustainable by not wasting energy, maintaining occupant comfort and saving money at the same time.
They're able to deploy their personnel in a more intelligent way because they can take their tablet with them to the building, and they know exactly where to look for the problem that's showing up from the energy management software. And before they leave the building they can look at the energy management software and see if there are any other problems in this building.
IT is creating a window into seeing how a building is operating and being able to see in real time what the issues are, how you should prioritize where you're going to spend your time to fix the problems, and being able to deploy your personnel resources intelligently.
At first, this trend was that organizations decided they would start reporting on how much money and resources they were saving through sustainability efforts. And everybody started reporting in whatever manner they were comfortable reporting. It didn't take long for all of us to realize that no one understood what anyone was talking about because there were no standard metrics. Each organization was reporting the way it understood its own metrics, but that didn't necessarily translate to other people. Even companies in the same type of business were not reporting in the same way.
Now there are a few basic outlines of how companies are reporting their sustainability metrics. Anybody who is reporting is now reporting in a way similar to one of those outlines.
Companies are asking: "What do I need to report and what's the value of this report?" You could just say you used less water this year and be happy with your progress. But how much money did you save? How much money are you paying for water? And how much money are you paying to discharge the water? You don't just discharge water for free. It's got to go into a drain and you're charged for how much that water has to be cleaned before it is released. Organizations are getting more sophisticated in realizing and showing the deeper level of returns on the sustainability changes they're making.
If you're just starting out now, you have a few different paradigms to choose from in regards to sustainability reporting. But you're also going to have to step it up much more quickly than the companies that have been doing this for 10 years. The trend is to not only do the reporting, but also the deeper level of analysis in the reporting.
There's money and commitment and interest in new technology. And it's evolving so quickly that every six months there's something that will save you money and lower your costs or reduce your use of resources.
In the early stages of my current employment, we were looking at anti-idling devices. The director of the department was interested in lowering the amount of times trucks were idling. I found there was one department of public works in the state of Massachusetts and some police departments that said they had anti-idling devices on their vehicles.
Now, I can buy a ring three or four inches in diameter that installs on the outside of the gas cap where you put the nozzle in to fill up the gas. It will send data on everything a director needs to know about the car. The device will turn off the car after five minutes of idling. The device will note how much gas was used, what time the gas was pumped and where. The device sends alerts for engine maintenance and repairs. The route of the car is noted as well. There is constant innovation in technology related to reducing the use of resources.