Engineering Sustainability


Building owners and operators embrace sustainability on two levels. First, there’s the "big picture" perspective, which is often financially motivated. At this level, sustainability programs are employed to reduce operating expenses, which, in turn, increases net operating income (NOI) and asset value. From this perspective, asset managers make major capital allocation decisions, such as installing vehicle charging stations, based on financial metrics like return on investment (ROI) and net present value (NPV).

Just as important are the ground-level strategies employed by building engineers and the rest of the building operations teams. The best building engineers are those who can optimize the performance of building systems, increasing efficiency and driving down operation costs in the process. Following are a few things building engineers and operators can do to impact sustainability on a day-to-day level:

  • Keep Building Systems in Tune. Team members should work collectively (sometimes in tandem with their counterparts in other buildings or with consulting engineers) to re-tune building systems to ensure they’re operating at peak efficiency.

  • Verify Building Management System (BMS) Data. It’s easy to develop a false sense of trust about the data output of a BMS, but sometimes that data is inaccurate. For example, digital thermostats may need to be re-calibrated occasionally for accuracy. The team should have in place a recurring process to verify the accuracy of BMS data.

  • Embrace Predictive Maintenance. Unlike preventive maintenance, which is calendar-based, predictive maintenance is designed to maintain systems and replace certain components shortly before they are predicted to fail. For example, under a preventive maintenance program, the team might replace heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) filters every quarter, regardless of their condition, which may mean that perfectly good filters are being discarded.

    However, under a predictive maintenance program, the team can measure the airflow through the HVAC filters, compare it to a pre-established threshold and replace the filters only when they’re dirty. In many cases, this results in fewer HVAC filter changes per year, with no impact to building systems or tenant comfort.

  • Manage Construction Waste Differently. How many trash containers did you use for your last tenant improvement project? How much of the material was perfectly usable but still ended up in the landfill? There are nonprofits in many cities that deconstruct buildings and homes, salvage usable materials and then sell the items to the public for reuse. They often provide job training and workforce development for individuals facing obstacles to employment, and these crews can come to your site to remove items prior to the arrival of the traditional demolition crew.

    Not only does a program like this help the community, but the materials you recycle—like cabinets, flooring and furniture—reduce your demolition and waste removal costs. In addition, if you think creatively, you might come up with some other ways to be more sustainable. For example, consider donating used HVAC, electrical and plumbing equipment to a local trade school program so students can work on real equipment during their training.


Ground-level strategies employed by building engineers and operators can impact sustainability on a day-to-day level.


Sometimes, it can be a challenge for on-site team members to appreciate how they can be sustainability champions within (and beyond) their sphere of influence. However, building engineers and operators play a major role in implementing sustainable practices at the property level in a way that impacts the triple bottom line (economic, environmental and social) for their building owners, their companies and their tenants.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: P. Marc Fischer is the interim executive director of the AOBA Educational Foundation, an organization created to address the talent crisis in the real estate industry by focusing on the critical need to promote careers in building operations, engineering and maintenance.

This article was originally published in the May/June 2019 issue of BOMA Magazine.

The AOBA Educational Foundation, a nonprofit organization, exists to address a talent crisis in the commercial real estate industry by promoting careers in commercial building operations, engineering and maintenance. The foundation connects job seekers, training centers, workforce development programs and employers to help companies recruit, develop, train and retain the next generation of skilled tradespeople in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., region. This work provides long-term, tangible benefits to the local economy and a workforce development pathway to stable, lucrative careers for job seekers. BOMA International is proud to be a sponsor of the AOBA Foundation.