Turning Carbon-Reduction Goals Into Tangible Progress

Boosting the sustainability of buildings with data-driven energy management

By Youssef Mestari, General Manager Sustainability and Energy Efficiency Solutions, Honeywell Building Technologies

A growing number of corporations and governments, including Honeywell, are making commitments to be carbon neutral by 2050 or sooner. In fact, one in five of the world’s largest publicly traded companies have now pledged to meet net-zero emissions targets, according to a study by the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit and Oxford Net Zero.

Reducing emissions is a cornerstone of any successful sustainability strategy, but establishing a target is only one step in the process. Achieving net-zero emissions requires investment, innovation and commitment.

While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all path, corporations and governments can take a number of actions. A successful transition starts by identifying the biggest opportunities in an organization. When a company makes a pledge to a more sustainable future, it must look at the sum of its parts. Different parts of an enterprise will be able to make changes to improve carbon footprint more easily than others. Imagine, for example, how expensive it is for a state-of-the-art factory to reduce its emissions by 30%. The owner of this factory could reduce a similar amount of emissions at a coal-fired power plant elsewhere by funding a more cost-effective project to install upgraded, new equipment. This type of carbon offset strategy enables capital to efficiently reduce emissions.

For most organizations, the two largest energy consuming assets are commercial buildings and fleet vehicles – making these the greatest sources of Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions. Together, buildings and construction account for about 36% of global energy consumption, and 38% of total direct and indirect carbon emissions, according to a 2020 report by the United Nations Environment Programme. Alarmingly, the U.N. study found that emissions from the operation of buildings hit their highest-ever level in 2019. Buildings represent an opportunity for organizations to make meaningful reductions in their carbon emissions.

Maximizing energy efficiency of building systems

Whether you have a single building or a large portfolio, the starting point for building a net-zero strategy is establishing baselines of current performance and existing building characteristics. The data is critical for a precise, in-depth analysis of your building’s operations and equipment — across brands, systems and technologies. You’ll be able to make more accurate assessments and comparisons, even among different properties. Specific, reliable information informs better business decisions, such as investments in equipment and upgrades.

The next step is identifying energy efficiency opportunities in all building systems. Heating, cooling and lighting are typically the biggest consumers of energy in buildings. The challenge is maximizing energy efficiency while also maintaining a safer and more comfortable environment that promotes occupant productivity, satisfaction and wellbeing. What’s more, balancing comfort against energy budgets isn’t the same challenge from one year to the next. Utility rates, weather and occupancy are constant variables. For example, facility owners and managers have faced unique operational challenges during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Many have had to address indoor air quality through their building’s ventilation systems by increasing outdoor air circulation or installing air filtration and cleaning systems, which could drive greater energy consumption.

Energy management and information systems (EMIS) allow owners, operators and facility managers to proactively manage comfort, system performance and consumption. The systems often leverage the capabilities of artificial intelligence and machine learning to reveal hidden energy waste and provide predictive, optimized control.

These systems analyze information from sources such as sensors, meters, IoT devices, weather stations and building automation systems to give users visibility into trends and unexplained energy spikes. The continuous monitoring, fault detection, diagnostic tools and analytics take the guesswork out of finding the optimal equipment settings. EMIS can collect data, comparing conditions and demand in buildings to current weather and utility pricing, and automatically recalibrate building equipment in real time and respond to issues as they occur.

EMIS offer an entirely new way to manage building systems and their efficiency gains are typically borne out of tangible cost savings. 104 public and private organizations recently participated in a four-year study funded by the U.S. Department of Energy examining the use of EMIS. Participants used the systems in 6,500 buildings covering more than 500 million square feet of floor space. By the second year of installation, participants with energy information systems achieved a median annual energy savings of 3% and participants with automated fault detection and diagnostic tools achieved a median savings of 9%. Yearly savings are projected to be 4.1 trillion Btu and $95 million once EMIS use has been established.

Reducing a buildings’ carbon footprint can require significant investments, but some investments have a quicker return than others. Organizations with EMIS have a median two-year simple payback period, making these systems a highly competitive investment option when compared with other energy efficiency technologies, according to the study. Reducing emissions through reduced energy consumption not only helps an organization reach its net-zero goals — it’s also good for their bottom line.

Determining the approach that’s right for your organization is often the most complex and challenging aspect of sustainability. Speak to an expert to learn more about Honeywell’s holistic solution.

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