Why spending cuts are a poor excuse for stalling sustainability projects

This information provided by Smart Cities Council North America.
Fri, 2015-05-29 06:00 -- Kevin Ebi


When your city’s budget is cut, it’s easy to see the glass as half empty. And that’s exactly what many cities are doing by cutting or slowing down their sustainability initiatives.

But some see the glass as half full -- and it's a strategy that is paying off. And there are technologies, like a cloud-based analytics platform from Council Lead Partner IBM, that give buildings the brains to find more ways to save on their own.

Many cities are pessimistic -- and they shouldn’t be
An overwhelming majority of cities are using tight budgets as an excuse to cut spending on green projects, according to a new survey by Council Lead Partner GE. It found nearly two-thirds of the cities polled say they’re “locked in” by inadequate budgets.

Further, those cities are putting green projects on hold even when there are financing models available to help pay for them. But cities can borrow a page from businesses that are using savings from green projects to offset spending cuts. And there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that strategy works.

Green investments can really pay off
The U.S. Green Building Council -- a Council Advisory Board member -- finds that investments in sustainable buildings can provide dramatic cost savings, including some benefits that you wouldn’t necessarily tie to green construction. From a cost savings standpoint, it found that new green buildings cost nearly 10% less to operate than older buildings. The savings rate nearly doubles to 19.2% for projects that retrofit old construction with green technology.

More surprising, however, was that green buildings seem to inspire employees. People who work in an environmentally friendly setting are on average 16% more productive than employees who are not. The green investment also seemed to make it easier to attract and retain employees. That’s additional savings.

The brains behind the buildings
To get the most value out of green building projects, the project needs to be about more than just the physical structure. Advanced analytics and smart control systems play a key role as well.

A case in point is work IBM is doing at the Carnegie Mellon campus. When finished, 36 buildings on the Pittsburgh campus will be able to find their own ways to conserve. The university estimates the project will cut its utilities expenses by 10% — a savings of about $2 million each year.

IBM’s cloud-based platform ties the building control systems together with analytics. This platform is not only capable of identifying opportunities to save, but also taking action on them. For example, the system will be capable of telling if both the heating and cooling systems are running simultaneously and take corrective action, something that is not possible without integration.

And analytics can even help people make smarter decisions. Students at San Leandro High School in California, using technology from Council Associate Partner OSIsoft, found ways to conserve energy. Through sensors and analytics, they found rarely used devices plugged in and running. They also re-timed automatic lights to optimize efficiency. Analytics allowed them to take easy steps that resulted in significant savings.

Making better use of funding
By 2025, buildings are expected to become the biggest consumers of energy. And study after study has shown that they waste a fair amount of that.

While reducing that waste requires an upfront investment, green projects typically deliver strong returns on investment. And for cities that are cash strapped, those savings can be used to help pay for projects that would otherwise be on the chopping block.

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Kevin Ebi is a staff writer and social media coordinator for the Council. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.

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