Elevators Rise in the World of Sustainability


In one sense, traditional elevators have only two directions. But, the path to elevator sustainability has been long and winding. That’s changing, however: After years of wrong turns, the vertical transportation industry and building owners are at last mutually aligned in their commitment to creating a healthier, more sustainable future.

Often ignored or disregarded as an energy drain, elevators have been the focus of technology advancements that have inspired building owners and managers to reconsider how they could not only help improve energy efficiency, but also help meet some of the industry’s most stringent green building certifications.

One of the reasons building owners haven’t traditionally prioritized elevator systems as part of their sustainability initiatives is that, up until recently, elevators had been excluded from LEED consideration. Through the last LEED version, which was effective until 2016, elevators were grouped as specialty equipment and were deemed too expensive, thus compromising the low-cost thresholds for material credits in LEED. But, through encouragement from major elevator companies, leadership at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) decided that key building components could no longer be excluded if true building improvements were to occur, and that change was reflected in LEED v4.

As a result, elevators have become essential to any green building. But, as building owners and developers have pursued LEED credits, they’ve recognized that still more can be done. Beyond LEED, developers began to create buildings that have no negative impact, make more power than they are using and incorporate safe and healthy building products.

The Living Building Challenge was created by the International Living Future Institute to address this exact issue. The Living Building Challenge includes a list of 21 chemicals known as the "Red List" that cannot be incorporated into any part of a building.

As a result, we at thyssenkrupp are now inspecting the components of our products using Declare labels, a transparency platform (similar to a nutrition label) that shares where a product comes from, what it’s made of and where it goes at the end of its life. Vertical transportation suppliers are also increasingly pursuing Cradle-to-Cradle Material Health Certificates, as well as Health Product Declarations down to 0.1 percent, by weight, of the material that is used in the cabs, doors and entrances.


Leadership at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) decided that key building components (including vertical transportation) could no longer be excluded if true building improvements were to occur, and that change was reflected in LEED v4.


The rise of elevators as a contributor to sustainability over the past few years doesn’t stop with material transparency, and the optimization of components on existing elevators also could help buildings achieve zero energy. Previously, creating an energy-efficient elevator that could consume and produce energy equally was only thought possible on new installations. Although that option remains extremely limited, technology and engineering now have made this option possible on existing elevators as well.

Modernizing an elevator to achieve net-zero energy requires energy production through a photovoltaic (PV) solar system, in addition to a series of steps that diminish the energy consumption of every part of the elevator system. The main components of an elevator system that can be optimized include the controller, drive, machine room, motor, dispatching and lighting/ventilation.

While elevators may never be viewed as an energy asset, they can and should be viewed as an essential energy contributor that can bring the concepts of sustainability and green building much higher.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Monica Miller Brown, LEED AP BD+C, O+M, WELL AP, is sustainable design manager at thyssenkrupp Elevator Americas.

This article was originally published in the September/October 2019 issue of BOMA Magazine.