Sustainable design depends on ground level staff and users

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The importance on sustainability have become a hot topic of concern in recent times.The focus on the overall reduction of carbon footprint and emission of greenhouse gases have become so significant that there are conferences fully dedicated to discuss these issues. Governments and major corporations around the globe are introducing measures and means to reduce wastage of energy and material resources. Energy consumption keeps rising everyday in developed and developing countries. If the energy is from a renewable source, it will not be of major concern on the emission of greenhouse gases and or global warming. Majority of the energy that is currently being consumed are generated through burning of fossil fuels. Putting aside the total power generated in a country, the question would be if the energy consumed is being utilized in a efficient manner.

So what is sustainability?

Sustainability is defined in the ASHRAE Greenguide (ASHRAE 2010), in general terms , as “providing for the present without detracting from the ability to fulfill the needs of the future,”

This book definition is however an aspiration.

In the construction of a building for example, there are multiple parties involved namely the architect and consultant whom design the building, the contractor who build it and the facilities management team who manage and maintain the facilities and most importantly the users of the said building.

  • The scope of the consultant is to design building and its related services in such manner that energy consumption is efficient. Extensive calculations and coordination work are done to ensure that the equipment chosen are energy efficient.
  • The scope of the contractor is to procure, construct, test and commission the building and its related services based on approved consultant drawings.
  • The scope of the facilities management team is to maintain the functionality and reliability of the constructed building and its related services.

Suppose everyone is doing their scope of work, the building energy consumption could still be poor. Some of the reasons are the ground support staff and the user. The following items are possible scenarios that could affect building energy consumption.

  • Opening windows and leaving doors open when air-conditioning system is turned on, thus allowing conditioned air to escape.
  • Forgetting to switch off air-conditioning system when it is not in use. (e.g. after office hours)
  • Forgetting to turn off lights when not in use.
  • Turning on centralized air-conditioning to facilitate one or two employees after official working hours.
  • Forgetting to switch off equipment’s such as personal computers after working hours.
  • Facilities management technical team switching on air-conditioning and lighting way ahead of required time of usage wasting energy.
  • Facilities management technical team bypassing energy efficiency parameter to meet user demands.

These human related factors will affect the overall energy consumption of a building. Increased energy consumption will lead to a costlier electrical bill. If each building has a user related energy wastage of 10%, at a national level, that would translate into 4-5 TWh (Tera Watt Hour) of energy every year. Educating ground staff and regular users must be a priority if we are really serious about sustainability.

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