Design and Construction, Green Building, Maintenance and Operations, Sustainability/Business Continuity

An Actionable Plan to Achieve Net Zero

How do we achieve net zero? This is a key question that facilities managers and other stakeholders are increasingly being required to ask themselves.

The world is evolving, and a central piece in this evolution is the shift toward net-zero carbon emissions. This is a marked shift from 10 years ago, when the focus was largely on energy efficiency and associated equipment selection. What was once considered innovative or market leading—like the push for LEDs or VFDs—is now standard practice. And while this progression is natural, this accelerated pace of change—combined with new carbon reduction technologies and government regulations—has brought a new dimension risk to carbon footprints.

With both stakeholders and the public asking for real commitments and results, now is the time to plan for how to answer the big question of how to achieve net zero.

The Importance of Asset and Equipment Tracking

Fortunately, new technology has afforded facilities managers the ability to track data in one centralized, digital location. Having a standardized repository of accurate information on which longer-term and capital planning decisions can be based provides a host of benefits for facilities. This is especially helpful in the public sector, where it’s imperative that facilities managers plan their limited capital. With a rigid procurement and budget cycle, the need for a central source of truth that allows managers to make direct comparisons as they take steps toward their net-zero goals will be paramount.

Alternatively, when processes are manual and disparate, it becomes very difficult to coordinate with decision-makers. Having an asset registry and an in-depth understanding of which equipment managers have at their disposal and when each asset is due for renewal will allow for more proactive conversations with stakeholders and easier buy-in when it comes to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) planning.

Finally, questions like, What are the major systems in my building, by equipment name and ID? When were they installed, and when are they due for replacement? Are they natural gas or other fuel consuming? And what will phasing this equipment out look like? can all be answered quickly and clearly. This information, combined with the facility’s utility data, can provide managers with a full picture of their building’s greenhouse gas emissions performance.

Creating a Sustainable Decarbonization Plan

Once a central source of truth is in place to understand an organization’s baseline greenhouse gas emissions as well as the equipment in place at a facility, technical experts and engineers then have the necessary tools to move forward with preparing comprehensive decarbonization plans for their facilities.  

At its core, a decarbonization plan is a review of a facility’s main systems—including HVAC, roof, envelope, and more—to assess opportunities for fuel switching and potentially rethink how a building is heated and cooled based on when the various pieces of equipment are up for renewal. In general, it’s recommended to review the upgrade and renewal options for major systems at least every five years in advance of the equipment’s end of life. The key to a decarbonization plan is the assessment of options associated with this equipment renewal or replacement, assessing at least one option in the following categories:

  1. Like-for-Like Replacement. This is the replacement of equipment with the same or similar piece of equipment.
  2. Energy Efficiency. For many, this will be “business as usual,” as most facilities managers are looking for energy efficient options at the time of replacement.
  3. Zero Carbon Option. This includes equipment replacement or renewal options to phase out natural gas through retrofits such as electric boilers, heat pumps, and more.

For organizations looking to set and achieve meaningful carbon reductions, the status quo approach to asset management of replacing assets only when they’ve reached the end of their lives or prioritizing like-for-like and business-as-usual replacement will no longer work. Instead, employing the right software partner can help scale in-house energy management expertise to make a net-zero transformation more attainable. Organizations are facing increased pressure from investors and regulators to report on their carbon emissions, and software can help managers keep pace with the demand of popular reporting frameworks and green building certifications while providing transparency into the progress of sustainability initiatives.

Further, implementing the right software tools can help initiate decision-making when assets are coming up for renewal. It’s important to nail down who needs to be notified—from leaders on the operations team to asset management team members—and ensure that all parties are properly trained in the importance of asset management. By normalizing asset management across an organization, managers can achieve their carbon goals and easily pivot as new government regulations arise.

Forecasting the Right Path to Net Zero

From there, managers can begin to input options for equipment renewal or decarbonization into their plans, including costs, savings, available incentives, and supporting documentation. By leveraging existing data, they can project the success of future maintenance and sustainability initiatives. This modeling of different equipment renewal processes will allow managers to think critically about which levers and updates will be most important to achieving net zero. Ultimately, facilities managers can feel confident that they’ll see a steady and clear improvement in team efficiency, cost control, and energy savings—and communicate that confidence to key stakeholders.

When we talk about decarbonization, we’re often talking about fuel switching—for example, switching natural gas to electricity. And while the technology hasn’t caught up to every industry and use case just yet, there are steps that can be taken across every industry. As managers begin to create and deploy net-zero plans for their facilities, it will be imperative for them to access and track the current state of their assets. Through benchmarking and forecasting, facilities managers can make informed decisions for their organizations as they prioritize net zero and decarbonization.

Dan Arant is the North America manager of energy and ESG at Brightly, a Siemens company. Arant joined Brightly in 2013 and is a Certified Energy Manager through both the Association of Energy Engineers and the Institute of Energy Professionals.

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