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Helping Clients Surpass Energy Goals

The architecture, engineering, and construction industry has continued to navigate significant change over the past year, while looking ahead at tangible action to address long-term sustainability considerations, including the topic of resilience. Resiliency is our ability to recover from extreme events, whether social, economic, or environmental. The focus of many organizations on net zero energy outcomes addresses both resilience short-term and the longer-term impacts of climate change. For example, an energy efficient building places less demand on resources after a major weather event, while also reducing long-term emissions that ultimately impact climate change.

Maury Elementary School in Washington, D.C. Photo by Alan Karchmar/OTTO.

Organizations at the federal, state, and local levels have set targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions, typically by 2030 and 2050. These targets require a blend of strategic big-picture thinking, coupled with implementation techniques that recognize the reality of complex stakeholder groups, financing constraints, and knowledge gaps.

In 2021 in Washington, D.C., a ground-breaking new building energy performance standard went into effect. This BEPS standard requires existing buildings that perform below median levels to reduce energy use by 20% over a 5-year compliance cycle. This cycle repeats an additional three times, with the intent of driving both operational and capital improvement investments across the building stock in D.C. For public sector buildings, including schools, public safety facilities, and recreation centers, buildings over 10,000 SF are required to participate in the first cycle.

Since 2020, DLR Group has been collaborating with the D.C. Department of General Services on a strategic energy plan to meet the goals of BEPS, as well as Clean Energy DC and Sustainable DC. Our process has included over a hundred meetings with stakeholders across the entire organization and analysis of thousands of data points for over 300 buildings. We’ve learned the following.

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The John and Jill Ker Conway House in Washington, D.C. Photo by Robert Benson.

Knowledge Sharing Matters

In any large organization, it is easy to take knowledge transfer for granted. A design project manager, due to their role, will naturally have a different focus and perspective than a facility manager, for example. The more roles are understood across functional groups, the better. DLR Group helped to bring different stakeholder groups together to share experiences, challenges, and ideas.

Data Matters

The district has made major strides over the last five years increasing the availability of data across the organization. Very often, different tools do not naturally transfer data between each other. We helped build a customized visualization platform to integrate data from different databases, to make it easier to absorb complex datasets and shape a transparent decision-making framework.

Timing Matters

One of the most complex considerations we faced was the identification of energy conservation scope for each building at the right intensity and the right time. Over the course of a 10-year plan, we identified an approach to focus on optimization of as many buildings in the first five years, while backloading more intense capital work to the latter half of the plan. This allows resources to be allocated, comprehensive design to be executed, and additional data to be gathered as energy management is threaded culturally across the organization. One of the things we wanted to avoid is abandoning equipment of average efficiency that is otherwise in good condition.

Boundaries Matter

As we continued to collaborate, we recognized that boundaries and definitions are critical to set and communicate. As the industry integrates a greater focus on embodied energy and carbon, it easy to become overwhelmed by the breadth of issues to tackle. The Carbon Leadership Forum has invested significant efforts in the SE 2050 and MEP 2040 challenges, which seek to drive change and transparency of data on the emissions associated with the manufacturing, transportation, and raw materials used for a wide range of building systems and products. As signatories of both challenges, our team is using the lessons learned from working with large portfolios to drive our data collection process.

Celebrate Success

We found the value of maintaining a positive and optimistic outlook for our team members and clients, we think its important to share the related challenges we’ve overcome not only with other client group but from within our own organization.

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