“A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.” This proverb is often taken to mean a dollar today is better than two dollars in the future. However, its origin in medieval falconry reveals a deeper meaning that can relate to owners and operators of facilities.

In falconry, a bird of prey is trained to hunt. The outlay of time and effort to train the bird is significant. However, the result is a system for hunting that meets the trainer’s needs in an efficient manner and provides long-term benefits.

Investing in high-performance existing buildings has a similar idea. Efficient, well-managed existing buildings can lead to continual opportunities to save money, boost productivity, and even generate revenue.

Several tools have been developed to assist building operators and their advisors train existing buildings to retrieve greater benefits. These include ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager (ESPM) and its embedded Sustainable Buildings Checklist, as well as the LEED and Green Globes rating systems developed by the US Green Building Council (USGBC) and the Green Building Initiative (GBI), respectively.

Each has varying processes, requirements, and results. Together they form a versatile set of tools. Properly understood and applied, these tools can help hunt down a range of benefits from enhancing a company’s bottom line to helping a public agency comply with energy and greenhouse gas regulations

For many types of existing buildings, ESPM is the place to take “wing.” Available for no charge, ESPM is a web-based application for benchmarking. With little more than utility bills, a user can score a building’s performance compared to similar facilities. With the help of an architect or engineer, high-performing buildings can earn a certification. More than 300,000 commercial buildings use ESPM to track their performance, with 3.5 billion square feet certified.

ESPM can help additional aspects of sustainable performance soar. Initially designed to support federal agencies complying with the government’s “Guiding Principles for Sustainable Existing Buildings,” ESPM’s Sustainable Buildings Checklist is now available to track any building’s operations against 26 best practices in five categories, including integrated design, energy, water, indoor environmental quality, and materials. While mandatory for federal facilities, the checklist points the way for public sector buildings to grasp opportunities to cut utility bills, improve occupant health, and generate revenue from recycling.

RS&H is assisting NASA with LEED EB certification of its engineering building at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Third-party verification of a building’s sustainable features is often important to prove results to investors, owners, and tenants. Two prominent organizations offer certification programs for existing buildings: USGBC and GBI. Much like the Guiding Principles, the USGBC’s LEED for Existing Buildings (LEED EB) and GBI’s Green Globes for Existing Buildings systems eye a building’s performance across several dimensions. However, these programs offer flexibility to managers and their advisors to chase the high-performance improvements that best fit their needs. More than 2,300 buildings (more than a billion square feet) have been certified under LEED EB alone, with more than 50 percent of the activity taking place within the last three years.

As competitors, these programs offer different advantages. LEED tends to offer depth, rigor, and resources, while Green Globes may offer breadth, simplicity, and speed. LEED encourages establishing a system for operating a “well-trained” building, while Green Globes emphasizes documenting the process of landing there. Selection of the appropriate system depends on a building manager’s objectives, budget, and schedule.

With resources constrained, look no further than the buildings we already have. With the right leadership and the proper tools, existing buildings can be trained to bring us numerous benefits.

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About the author

Ben Moore
Ben Moore
Ben is as an energy environment and sustainability planner. His experience includes energy efficiency, renewable energy, climate change and sustainability policy, as well as program development and management for state and municipal governments.