While sustainability and green building have fast become key buzzwords amongst the developers of new projects in the construction and real estate sectors, the retrofitting of existing facilities has the potential to slash energy consumption levels and related emissions of greenhouse gases.

Reductions in energy consumption of more than a third can be achieved via retrofitting in three key areas – the adoption of more efficient systems and equipment, improvements to management and operations, and encouraging tenants to engage in more sustainable behaviour.

Upgrades to systems and equipment is the chief area of focus for most energy audits, and what most people would usually associate with a building retrofit directed at improvements to efficiency.

This is readily understandable, given their prominence as the tangible, functioning hardware of a building facility. Systems and equipment encompass almost all the physical aspects of building, including the building envelope, lighting systems, heating and cooling systems, variable speed drives and hot water.

Upgrades in these areas are a vital source of reductions in energy consumption, comprising as much as 40 per cent of potential efficiency gains from retrofits. They also tend to draw greater attention due to their rapid returns on investment, with a key example being the immediate decline in utilities bills achieved by a retrofit of lighting systems.

Systems and equipment improvements alone can achieve huge energy savings, even for some of the modern era’s most venerable properties. A great example is the US$108 million Empire State Building project, which reduced energy consumption in New York city’s most iconic skyscraper 38 per cent by means of a set of eight integrated measures which were selected based on their life cycle cost.

Retrofitting in other pivotal areas is often neglected due to its intangible nature and the increased time it may take for efforts to yield results. These are improvements to management and operations, and active engagement with tenants, which can jointly comprise as much as 60 per cent of potential efficiency gains.

This fact is exemplified by the findings of the Energy Star Portfolio Manager Study, Building Performance Defined, which concluded that the hardware of a facility is only one part of the its overall efficiency performance.

“This finding challenges a longstanding misconception that building efficiency can be defined by the presence of efficiency equipment,” said the study.

Smart building technologies could be the key to exploiting the efficiency potential of improvements to both management and operations and tenant behaviour.

These system provide a continual, real-time supply of data aggregated from meters and sensors distributed throughout a facility, which can be analysed and used to swiftly identify areas of lagging efficiency or wasteful consumption.

Deployment of smart building systems has already achieved significant efficiency gains for major corporations. Consumer goods giant Procter and Gamble installed energy monitoring and cloud-based commissioning systems in 12 of its buildings, including its headquarters in Cincinnati, as well as across its laboratories and manufacturing operations.

Procter and Gamble used this smart building system to achieve reductions in energy consumption and costs by as much as 10 per cent within five months, and obtain a return on investment in as little as the first three months of operation.