Is your workplace behavior polluting the planet? 

Everyone wants a greener workplace, but are we doing all we can to make it so? The answer is no. It’s not because we’re uncaring polluters. More likely, we’re simply not as attentive as we could be to how our behavior impacts energy use at work. Many people erroneously assume that landlords bear sole responsibility for commercial building energy efficiency. But while landlords may control energy use in common areas such as the lobby, corridors, stairwells, etc., tenants are responsible for the energy they consume within the premises they lease.

Business activity in commercial buildings of all types accounts for approximately 18 percent of all energy used the U.S. And while owners of office buildings — especially in California and particularly in San Francisco have invested heavily in energy efficient equipment and engineering practices, changing occupant behavior offers the best way to achieve the next wave of substantial energy savings.

We can start by knowing how energy is used in commercial buildings. It breaks down like this: HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) systems consume 39 percent lighting, 12 percent; water heating, 12 percent; electronics, 9 percent; refrigeration 7 percent; cooking, 5 percent; all other categories, 16 percent.

What office tenants can do:

  • Between the hours of approximately 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. in summertime, and on weekends, close drapes and shades on south- and west-facing windows.
  • Reduce plug load at lunchtime by turning off computers, printers. and monitors not in use.
  • Turn off ancillary devices such as desk fans, radios, desk lamps and especially space heaters.
  • Turn off lighting in areas not regularly occupied.
  • Enable all energy-saving features in office equipment.
  • Switch off lighting, computers, copiers, etc. when you leave your office at night.
  • Use task lighting instead of full overhead lighting where possible. Turn off perimeter lighting circuits near windows and take advantage of day lighting.
  • Turn off holiday displays.
  • When purchasing new equipment, always look for the Energy Star logo.
  • Working with building management, adjust temperature set points higher for cooling, and lower for heating.
  • When building out your workplace, insist that any tenant improvements be done by architects, engineers and contractors who have been trained in the most sustainable practices.
  • Create an energy-aware culture in your office by appointing a monitor and having periodic meetings to emphasize the need to make your workplace more cost-effective by adopting wise energy-efficient practices.
  • Approach your landlord and ask what the building is doing to control energy use, and how you as a business tenant can help by aligning your goals with that of the building management.

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development estimates that energy use in buildings can be cut by 60 percent if everyone participates. Every building occupant has an important role to play in achieving more responsible environmental stewardship. Are you doing your part?

Marc Intermaggio is executive vice president of BOMA, San Francisco’s Building Owners and Managers Association.

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