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Carbon-Cutting Steps to Take Now for Improving the Built Environment

Residential and commercial buildings in the United States are responsible for nearly 40% of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions, according to US Energy Information Administration estimates. As plans around the country emerge to lift some of the closures that were imposed due to the pandemic, national experts see an opportunity to focus on sustainable building.

Keri Taylor, the director of national account services for Trane’s commercial HVAC business in North America, is one of them. She’s worked with numerous building owners and operators for more than a decade, and currently helps companies decrease the carbon footprints of their buildings.

Recently we caught up with Taylor to find out how the pandemic is affecting building plans in the US, and how leaders in the built environment sector can start cutting carbon right now.

How is the pandemic affecting building plans in the United States?

The work-from-home mandate that so many employers and employees have undertaken for the last few months has caused companies to evaluate how much building space they actually need. Many companies and workers have adapted to telework effectively and with very few productivity impacts.

Prior to the pandemic, there was a trend to reduce the number of square feet per worker and develop more open, communal work spaces. Considering the newly proven effectiveness of telework and distancing guidelines, we could see a reverse in these prior densification efforts and trends. At the very least, I think companies will re-evaluate their space needs.

What carbon- and energy-cutting opportunities do you see for corporate leaders who are considering building upgrades?

The best carbon- and energy-cutting opportunities result from data-driven solutions.

One way to cut carbon is to employ remote diagnostics and artificial intelligence. These types of solutions allow remote technicians to check and resolve many of the alarms or indicators in a building that would typically result in a service call or a truck roll. Fewer truck rolls mean fewer carbon emissions and reduced total operating expenses.

Another solution is ice storage. This option allows for ice to be made and stored during off-peak hours, typically overnight. It is then used to cool buildings during the more expensive energy-peak hours during the day, resulting in a sustainable and energy-efficient way to cool buildings.

What are the advantages of taking these steps?

The biggest advantage to making these changes is that they result in a healthy building maintenance system, which in turn results in a healthy building for the occupants.

Well-maintained building systems function more effectively, result in less downtime due to repairs, experience longer performance, and produce greater indoor air quality — which is more important than ever.

I anticipate that many companies will start asking for indoor air quality assessments as they look at new buildings or evaluate whether to stay in their current buildings. It is also well documented that well-maintained systems lead to the lowest total cost of ownership and produce healthier buildings overall.

Where do you see sustainable building heading in the future given the serious economic challenges that are emerging?

The first step toward efficient and sustainable buildings is to make sure the building is connected to a building automation system. This will provide data to drive the decisions around carbon and energy efficiency, and is a great place to start.

Companies looking to attract and retain top talent in the post-pandemic economy are going to have to make sure that they take the health of their buildings, their employees, and the environment into consideration. This could lead to new certifications for the health of a building and indoor air quality. This way, companies can confidently state that they have done their best to provide a building that is well maintained, energy efficient, resilient, and sustainable for the environment and employees alike.

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