Dashboards show buildings’ real-time energy use

Traffic light colours paint a picture of performance for tenants
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
By Darryl Neate

Workers filing into the Royal Bank Plaza’s two downtown Toronto office towers can’t miss seeing the sustainability dashboards that were introduced in September 2012. Five high resolution digital screens prominently placed in the elevator lobbies show the buildings’ real-time electricity use and compare it to past performance.

Two energy graphics use a simple gauge and line graph with colour zones to illustrate electricity consumption and the daily profile of the building’s electricity use. The dashboards also impart tips for action and other sustainability messaging about the building, tenants and events.

The colour scheme is straightforward: green – using less energy than usual; yellow – using an average amount of energy; red – using more energy than usual. This is a simpler approach than some of the data-heavy examples seen elsewhere. It is also a deliberate attempt by building management, Oxford Properties, to reach the broadest possible base of viewers.

The information is drawn from more than 70 tenant sub-meters. This focus on tenant consumption is also deliberate to align the messaging on the screen with the sought after results. It would be more difficult for tenants to separate their part of the total building consumption and to see how occupant behaviour literally “moves the needle” of the graph.

Profiling interesting facts about the building, tenant success stories and showing momentum towards energy targets and programs, like the Race to Reduce energy challenge among Toronto area buildings, are an equally important component of the screens.

The sustainability dashboards are part of an effort to appeal to tenants’ stated interest in an environmentally-friendly workplace – more than 90 per cent endorsement in several recent customer surveys – and to support a culture of sustainability at the Royal Bank Plaza complex. Occupants who feel more informed and connected to the performance of the building and who work together to do the right thing are integral to that culture.

The business case is also persuasive. With an annual energy expenditure of more than $8 million at Royal Bank Plaza and 7,500 occupants who consume up to 50 per cent of the energy load, there is a clear opportunity to save.

Electricity accounts for more than 70 per cent of the energy used at the complex and tenants directly consume the major portion through their lighting and plug loads. Although the campaign is not targeting the electricity consumption that supports tenants’ business operations, it places a priority on turning things off in unoccupied space and during unoccupied hours.

Admittedly, some observers have asked about the logic of energy-consuming screens to convey a message about energy conservation, and it’s a fair question. The five screens are Energy Star-certified, which means they are among the most energy-efficient LCD screens in their class. They use a tiny fraction of energy relative to the building’s overall consumption.

Even that small amount has been calculated and offset directly through de-lamping activities in the floors that Oxford Properties’ head office occupies in the towers. On balance, the amount of energy potentially saved through changing occupants’ behaviour – even using very conservative assumptions – far outweighs the energy the screens consume.

The screens also fit within a broader engagement program Oxford Properties is championing across its portfolio. This includes landlord-tenant green teams, tenant-driven sustainability campaigns across an entire building, lobby events, one-on-one tenant meetings to discuss sustainability priorities and opportunities, periodic building sustainability report cards and green leases.

Darryl Neate is the director of sustainability with Oxford Properties Group.

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