The Greening of Corporate America

May 14, 2007

Ken Silverstein, EnergyBiz Insider

Exelon Corp.'s environmental positions are paying off. The Chicago-based utility has retrofitted its headquarters so as to comply with green standards for commercial office buildings -- a move that is winning accolades from all corners.

While the strategy requires an upfront premium, it will eventually reap returns while also cutting the level of harmful emissions. Commercial and industrial sites are often some of the most voracious users of energy. Because lots of those facilities are old, for example, they may be using antiquated equipment that is not energy efficient. But, many businesses are realizing that they can save big bucks if they implement some sensible conservation features.

In Exelon's case, it consolidated its downtown Chicago locations into one suburban location. It chose to modernize existing space and to conform to U.S. Green Building Council standards. Altogether, the renovation that covers more than 220,000 square feet and 10 floors came at a 5 percent premium, the utility says. But, that will pay for itself within five years in the form of increased energy savings. This is the largest office space ever to be given the highest environmental rating awarded by the green building council.

"Our headquarters is a demonstration that other businesses can achieve attractive and functional results by renovating existing offices to meet the standards of the Green Building Council," says Helen Howes, vice president environment, health and safety for Exelon in Philadelphia. "They can do this by using commercially available products that come with a modest premium."

Controlling demand at large plants and commercial buildings has been an overlooked process. Experts can study a facility's technologies and operating protocols and determine where the pitfalls lie. They can then provide a good range of retrofits and the potential savings that those innovations will produce. The costly part would be any detailed engineering that is necessary to execute the plan.

In terms of resource management, Exelon purchased more than 60 percent of the project and construction materials from manufacturers located within 500 miles to reduce emissions associated with transportation. Three-quarters of construction waste was recycled or salvaged, and almost one-third of furniture and other materials were reused to reduce waste. Exelon is also buying renewable energy certificates to offset 100 percent of electricity usage for the office space from regional wind power facilities.

And as far as energy conservation goes, Howes says that 96 percent of the products that the utility is now using are Energy Star certified, meaning their efficiency levels have been recognized by third parties. That includes everything from copy machines to appliances. The building, furthermore, uses advanced lighting as well as sophisticated heating and cooling systems. It all works with sensors that make automatic adjustments.

"Energy efficiency and sustainability have become two of the most important factors in building design," says Donna Robertson, dean of the Illinois Institute of Technology's College of Architecture. "I'm optimistic that Exelon's leadership in building green will inspire other similar projects."

Setting the Example

The eventual goal is to create forward momentum and to encourage all businesses to participate in the green culture. According to the Green Building Council, offices consume 70 percent of the electricity load in the United States. They account for roughly 38 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions here and over the next 25 years, carbon dioxide emissions from those structures are projected to grow faster than any other sector, at 1.8 percent a year.

That's why the Green Building Council, in conjunction with like-minded organizations, has issued a memorandum asking building owners to make their properties carbon-neutral by 2030. Those buildings would use no energy from external power grids and could be built and operated at fair market values, it says, adding that the average building that is certified under the Council's standards uses 32 percent less energy.

Exelon's project may likely be trend setting. Compared to its previous space, the company has reduced electricity consumption by more than 43 percent and water consumption by 30 percent. It has also created a healthier and more productive work environment. From workstations, offices and conference rooms, all employees have outside views so they can benefit from natural light. In addition, air quality was improved through the use of low-emitting materials, paints, carpeting, furniture and finishes, and the installation of high-density air filters.

That efficiency initiative is all part of the company's vision to voluntarily reduce greenhouse gases by 8 percent from 2001 levels by the end of 2008. "We believe climate change is real," says Exelon's Howes. "We believe there should be federal legislation. I'd say to those who are doubters that they are now being overwhelmed with science and the evidence of global warming that we are already seeing."

An increasing number of businesses are getting greener. North Carolina-based Bank of America, for example, is cutting its energy use by at least 3 percent annually by enhancing building operations and educating employees. Since 2004, the bank says that it has saved at least $8 million. At the same time, it has a goal of reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions by 7 percent by 2008.

Xcel Energy, meantime, is spending $75 million to encourage energy conservation among its customers. Take Kaiser Permanente, which built a new $70 million medical office building and is working with Xcel to install modern transformers, heating and cooling equipment and lighting systems. The $200,000 investment is expected to yield an annual energy savings of $90,000 a year, says Kaiser.

"There is a groundswell, says Howes. "We are starting to see momentum build for energy conservation. We will see more and more renovations that incorporate green elements."

The greening of corporate America speaks volumes about the movement's credibility. It's not just about clean air and healthy living. It's also about saving money and setting the right example. Exelon has given the cause a giant thrust forward. And it's a near certainty that other mega-businesses will follow suit.

EnergyBiz Insider

Want to stay atop the energy sector?

Ken Silverstein
EnergyBiz Insider

Read EnergyBiz Insider, a thrice-weekly e-publication that takes an incisive look at the issues that affect your job and your company.

Each issue examines one relevant topic and gives you keen and in-depth insight.

Topics covered in Insider range from financial to technological to regulatory, with an eye toward providing fair and balanced coverage.

Sign Up For EnergyBiz Insider

EnergyBiz Magazine is Online


Navigating the Inimitable Needs of NERC CIP Compliance through Automated Framework

Tuesday Sep 16, 2014 - 12:00 PM Eastern - Virtual Event

There has been a significant emphasis from auditors of NERC Compliance on the adoption of automation processes by registered entities to enable a higher level of risk assurance. With continuous changes in the NERC CIP versions, as well as the more...

Revenue Assurance; a boring topic unless it's your revenue

Wednesday Sep 17, 2014 - 12:00 PM Eastern - Virtual Event

Did you get a paycheck recently? Did you look over your paycheck to make sure you got paid for the work you provided? Would you be concerned if your paycheck was 10, 15, or 20% less than you expected? That's more...

Data-to-Value Realized: AMI/OMS Integration

Thursday Sep 18, 2014 - 12:00 PM Eastern - Virtual Event

The explosion of data in utilities has at times seemed to have created more problems that it has solved. One refrain from utility executives is often around the quest for more value creation from their investments in smart grid, smart more...

Utility Analytics, Challenges & Solutions Webcast Series - Session One

Monday Sep 22, 2014 - 12:00 PM Eastern - Virtual Event

The utility analytics marketplace is evolving so fast that it is hard to keep up with new technologies and processes that are transforming how utilities accomplish their mission. This webcast series provides attendees with an opportunity to see and hear more...

Utility Analytics, Challenges & Solutions Webcast Series - Session Two

Tuesday Sep 23, 2014 - 12:00 PM Eastern - Virtual Event

The utility analytics marketplace is evolving so fast that it is hard to keep up with new technologies and processes that are transforming how utilities accomplish their mission. This webcast series provides attendees with an opportunity to see and hear more...

2014 Mobile Utility Week

Monday Sep 15, 2014 - Tuesday Sep 16, 2014 - Phoenix, AZ

This is a must-attend event for utilities professionals who are responsible for creating and implementing their organization's mobile strategy. Walk away with the knowledge and resources required to implement effective mobile solutions within the areas of customer engagement mobility and more...

CounterIntel Conference and Training - Park City, Utah

Tuesday Sep 16, 2014 - Thursday Sep 18, 2014 - Park City, UT - USA

Critical Intelligence will host our first CounterIntel Conference and Training in Park City, Utah, September 16-18, 2014. Join industry peers, industrial control system owners/operators and intelligence experts to discuss situational awareness and intelligence. Learn how leading organizations are incorporating intelligence more...

26th Annual Independent Energy Human Resources Association (IEHRA) Conference

Wednesday Sep 24, 2014 - Friday Sep 26, 2014 - San Diego, California - United States


8th Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange

Wednesday Sep 24, 2014 - Friday Sep 26, 2014 - Aspen, Colorado - USA

Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange (formerly Colorado Utility Efficiency Exchange) facilitates a networking and professional development conference for staff representatives of energy and water utilities serving Colorado and neighboring states who are responsible for developing and implementing customer programs related more...

2014 Utility Analytics Week

Wednesday Oct 22, 2014 - Friday Oct 24, 2014 - Newport Beach, CA

Join us for our Third Annual Utility Analytics Week event where you will hear and learn about the hottest topics in analytics today. The analytics revolution is pushing utilities to respond to real time needs arising in the industry as more...

Sponsored Content