What allows a building to be truly green? Answers like, “more efficient technology” or “retrofitting” might come readily to mind, but there’s another essential component that is frequently overlooked for its simplicity: “people.”
Based on the Real Property Association of Canada (REALpac)’s report, 20 by ’15: Achieving the Office Building Target of 20 ekWh/ft2/year by 2015, “The common perception has been that improving energy efficiency in buildings is all about technology, retrofitting and capital expenditure. The emerging new understanding is that policy, process and people are in fact at the heart of achieving and sustaining high levels of energy efficiency and deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”
Consequently, the building operators and managers involved in maintaining commercial and institutional facilities represent a crucial piece of the sustainability puzzle. The importance of building operators and the major challenges impacting the profession sparked ECO Canada’s recent Building Operator Scoping Study (BOSS).
A major starting point in the BOSS was the recognition of the high costs (both environmental and financial) of inefficient building operation. According to the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, commercial and institutional buildings in Canada account for 14% of energy consumption, 13% of carbon emissions and nearly $17 billion in annual energy costs.
Investing in energy efficient building practices can produce large payoffs. However, it is essential to recognize that such an investment is not just a question of how a building is designed, but also of how it is managed. Even in instances where energy-efficient technology and retrofitting are incorporated into a building, there still need to be building operators available with the requisite training and experience to effectively manage these updated, and often highly sophisticated, equipment and systems.
Two of these factors, the availability of building operators and their training, form the core of an impending labour crisis in the industry. From the BOSS’s findings, a significant labour shortage is anticipated within the next 5 to 10 years as the profession becomes increasingly technical and as existing building operators reach retirement age. To compound this looming deficit in labour supply, current educational and training programs for building operators continue to be fragmented, with the lack of a nationally recognized set of qualification standards.
In light of these challenges, the BOSS proposed three main recommendations, including the establishment of a clear partnership between government, industry and educational institutions to develop a national training and certification strategy, the creation of a national framework to track building operator labour market information, and the development of solutions to address some of the barriers to entry into the field.
Building operators are the not-so-secret key to successfully green buildings. They represent a valuable case in point of the importance of “people factors,” such as training and labour supply, that play such an essential part in sustainability initiatives.
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