Building Sustainability into Existing Facilities

While reducing the environmental impact of facilities and promoting a healthier work environment are emerging as central goals for a growing number of jurisdictions and agencies in the corrections and justice market, many facility owners, administrators and managers remain skeptical about how to fund such programs given the constant pressure to keep operating costs low, especially as energy prices continue to climb.

At a recent cross-market conference of facility directors and capital planners in Boston, participants weighed the various sustainability needs of their organizations. Using a board game, attendees chose their priorities from among 50 potential needs, categorized by the type of benefit they delivered — environmental, social or economic.

The top priorities among the audience were almost exclusively focused on generating operational efficiencies and cost savings by reducing energy use and extending the useful life of building equipment.

he audience was a microcosm of the market today, in that although jurisdictions are increasingly looking to improve the sustainability of building operations, participants identified the sourcing of adequate funding for sustainability projects as a key challenge.

There is a wide range of sustainability initiatives that owners and managers of existing facilities can pursue, and which can deliver sustainability benefits at a relatively low investment.

Industry-specific standards for sustainable building design and construction in the corrections and justice market are rapidly emerging. Indeed, the American Institute of Architects recently established a Sustainable Justice Committee to promote sustainability in criminal justice facility planning, design and construction.

Operating within the AIA’s Academy of Architecture for Justice, the committee will propose a LEED for Justice rating system to the U.S. Green Building Council. The committee also plans to develop an industry-oriented best-practices guide to sustainable justice facilities.

Emerging industry standards for sustainability, including those of the USGBC’s LEED rating system and certification, typically identify five key areas for improving sustainability in existing buildings: energy efficiency, water conservation, indoor air and environment, site sustainability, and materials and construction. 

Energy Efficiency

Energy is one of the most significant components of a facility’s operating costs. However, relatively simple changes can have a significant impact on energy consumption.

For example, upgrading lighting systems to use electronic rather than magnetic ballasts reduces the energy required from 40 watts to 34 watts per lamp, and can yield immediate savings in energy consumption of almost 20 percent. 

Lighting upgrades can also improve the quality of the work environment and reduce the amount of mercury toxins that enter the waste stream. Changing from T12 to T8 or T5 fixtures, for example, improves the efficiency and quality of lighting while reducing the need for recycling mercury due to lower content and the growing implementation of lamp recycling programs. 

Water Conservation

Water treatment, consumption and discharge all impact the operating costs of a facility, and reducing water use represents another major focus of efforts to incorporate sustainability initiatives into existing buildings.

Water closets and urinals typically consume the greatest amount of water. Retrofitting facilities with low-flush toilets and low-flush or waterless urinals is often an initial focus of water conservation initiatives.

Since 1992, federal law has mandated that all new toilets and urinals use no more than 1.6 and 1 gallon per flush, respectively. Such fixtures can reduce consumption up to 80 percent compared to older fixtures. The installation of automatic sensors, low-flow aerators on faucets and automated or manual control systems can further reduce water usage.

Indoor Air and Environmental Quality

Improving the work environment and quality of indoor air can impact the health and productivity of facility staff and inmates.

Reducing the amount of outdoor air that needs to be conditioned provides one example of a sustainability initiative that can both improve air quality and reduce operating costs.

Most HVAC systems are designed to supply outside air based on common design standards rather than actual occupant loads. This practice often results in the need to condition excessive amounts of outside air before introducing it into the building.

Using carbon dioxide sensors, coupled with a building automation system, can ensure that only the amount of outdoor air required for adequate ventilation is tempered. As carbon dioxide levels in a space rise due to occupant load, more outside air is brought in. Such system changes can yield energy savings of up to 40 percent.

Site Sustainability

Facility site design and maintenance and management plans for building exteriors are important components of a sustainability plan.

Other considerations include the environmental impact of transportation to and from the site, conservation strategies to support local habitat, and the prevention of air pollution, soil erosion and water sedimentation.

One important site factor affecting energy use is the heat island effect, which is produced via the heat absorbed and conducted by facility components such as parking lots, access roads, roofs and artificial recreation fields. Typically, a facility gains a significant amount of conductive heat through roofing components, which can significantly increase the energy demand and usage associated with facility cooling cycles and interior air tempering.

When replacing roofs, building managers can generate long-term energy savings by introducing climate-appropriate reflective roofing materials, including light-colored materials or polymer-based elastomeric coatings, to reduce conductive heat levels and associated energy use.

Materials and Construction

There are many relatively minor changes jurisdictions can implement in the area of building materials and construction practices to generate real and positive environmental, social and health benefits.

In terms of flooring and carpeting solutions, which are readily available with low-VOC emissive and high recycled content forms, tile offers an environmentally preferred alternative to traditional carpet as damaged sections can easily be replaced. In addition, carpet tile can last approximately 15 years compared to the 10 years of traditional carpet. Many manufacturers include a guarantee to recycle their product into a new generation of carpet tile at the end of its useful life, thus eliminating the product from the waste stream.

Interest in green building products and materials, facility plant and systems, design and construction methods, and operational practices and strategies is steadily increasing in the corrections and justice market as evidence, understanding and acceptance of the potential budgetary, environmental, health and social impacts and benefits of sustainability grow.

There are many short-term and relatively low-cost initiatives, which can be employed during renovations and basic building maintenance that can deliver greater building sustainability. At the other end of the spectrum, there are also comprehensive system upgrades and replacements that can deliver significant returns over the long term. Tailoring a sustainability plan to specific needs, goals and constraints, and achieving a balance of short- and long-term initiatives are key in implementing sustainability programs that will deliver operational efficiencies and cost-saving results today and continue to provide benefits into the future.

Susan Buchanan is a project manager at VFA Inc., a Boston-based provider of integrated software, services and solutions for facility asset management. Contact

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