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Study: Old Buildings Pose Big Inefficiencies

U.S. office buildings have failed to keep pace with the revolution in automation that pervades modern life, according to a new survey of American office workers by IBM. The survey indicates that inefficiencies built into office buildings are taking a toll in lost productivity and added costs.

According to IBM buildings consume 72 percent of all electricity (50 percent of which is wasted), generate 38 percent of electricity-related greenhouse gases, and emit more emissions into the environment than automobiles.

The survey also revealed a desire among workers to help remake offices into greener environments.

Los Angeles emerged as the clear winner in the IBM Smarter Buildings study, which surveyed 6,486 office workers in 16 U.S. cities on issues ranging from office building automation and security to elevator reliability and conservation issues. Respondents answered a series of questions about the office buildings in which they work.

"Urban environments are experiencing growth at a rate where better efficiency at the system level is key," said Rich Lechner, VP, Energy and Environment for IBM. "Yet, even as automobiles, transportation systems, electrical grids and other modern systems are achieving greater efficiency, many office buildings remain rooted in the past. Bridging this 'Intelligence Gap' can create huge savings in energy and maintenance costs and improve a company's bottom line, as well as create a healthier, more productive workforce."

The cost of the intelligence gap is reflected in many ways. For example, the cumulative time that office workers spent stuck in elevators in the past 12 months totaled 33 years across the 16 cities, broken out in the following way: New York City, 5.9 years; Los Angeles, 4.3 years; Chicago, 3.2 years; Houston, 2.9 years; Dallas/Fort Worth, 2.4 years; Washington, D.C., 2.2 years; Atlanta, 1.9 years; Boston, 1.8 years; Philadelphia, 1.7 years; San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose, 1.4 years; Detroit, 1.1 years; Seattle/Tacoma, 1 year; Denver, 1 year; Phoenix/Prescott, 0.8 year; Tampa/St. Petersburg, 0.6 year; Minneapolis/Saint Paul, 0.5 year.

Elevators: The Time Cost

The time spent waiting for an elevator is even more onerous. The cumulative time that office workers spent waiting for elevators in the past 12 months totaled 92 years across the 16 cities, broken out in the following way: New York City, 16.6 years; Los Angeles, 8.7 years; Chicago, 9.0 years; Houston, 6.8 years; Dallas/Fort Worth, 5.5 years; Washington, D.C., 7.7 years; Atlanta, 4.3 years; Boston, 5.4 years; Philadelphia, 6.0 years; San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose, 4.5 years; Detroit, 2.7 years; Seattle/Tacoma, 3.2 years; Denver, 2.3 years; Phoenix/Prescott, 4.1 years; Tampa/St. Petersburg, 1.6 years; Minneapolis/Saint Paul, 3.1 years.

Indeed, 25 percent said that the elevators in their office buildings are poorly coordinated - for example, too few or too many at any one time, or insufficient capacity.

LA Rules

Los Angeles was best or near-best in a number of key categories surveyed. For example, LA had the highest percentage (40 percent) of respondents who say their office buildings automatically sense when people are in a room and adjust lights and temperature accordingly - compared with the average of 27 percent. LA had the highest percentage of respondents (22 percent) who say their office buildings make use of renewable energy sources like solar. The average is 14 percent. LA had the highest percentage of respondents (thirty-five percent) who indicate that products promoting improved air quality (such as low VOC paint and sustainable carpet as well as bio-based cleaning fluids) are used in their buildings. The average is 26 percent.

LA also holds the top spot on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s list released last month that called out cities with the most Energy Star labeled buildings. LA had 293 of them in 2009, equaling $93.9 million in cost savings and prevention of emissions equivalent to the impact of 34,800 homes.

Other key findings from the study include:

Nationwide, only 33 percent rated their office buildings "somewhat high," "very high" or "extremely high" in terms of environmental responsibility.

79 percent of respondents say that they conserve resources such as water or electricity as part of their regular routine at work.

75 percent say they would be more likely to conserve resources at work if they were rewarded for the effort.

31 percent say their office buildings have low-flow toilets.

More than one quarter (26 percent) say that low emission and sustainable materials are used to promote improved indoor air quality in their office buildings.

14 percent report that their office buildings make use of solar energy or another renewable energy source.

13 percent have been stuck in an elevator in their office buildings in the past 12 months, and of that group, 33 percent have been stuck for 5-10 minutes, and another 22 percent have been stuck for more than 10 minutes.

Smarter Buildings Index

IBM has compiled the results of the survey into a Smarter Buildings Index that ranks efficiency in each city on a scale from one to 10, with 10 being the best.

The Index is comprised of 10 issues: elevator wait times, Internet access, badge access, lights turning off automatically in the evening, presence of sensors that adjust lights and temperature when people enter and leave rooms, use of renewable energy sources, low-flow toilets, use of air-friendly products, respondents opinion of how environmentally-friendly building is, respondents desire to participate in building redesign.

For the complete report click here.

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