Sustainability: the Living Office at AEM Group

Sustainability is about more than just saving energy. It's about developing a system to make the work environment more comfortable and pleasant while saving energy and becoming more efficient with materials. It's about making the workplace a nicer place to be. As our first step in developing a method of developing sustainability, we put ourselves through the process which we call the Living Office Project.

The project was introduced to AEM Group in three general stages: energy profiling, energy audit analysis and continuing energy accounting. Although the stages have the term “energy” in the title, they expand into the fields of environment, sustainability, and materiality.

Through several stages of web-based research, focus groups, testing, and feedback, the Living Office Project helps to refine AEM Group’s energy policy and awareness. The project builds a foundation to facilitate the renewal of and improvements to office sustainability and energy consciousness in general.

The poster with all the details of the Living Office

Energy profiling

An energy profile explores and records data in the following areas: site background, baseline energy-use and equipment details. The site study includes a description of the building’s construction and envelope (specifically insulation ratings).

The baseline data portion of this phase constitutes the initial “health” of the office. This phase is the first of many energy audits. The online energy analyzer will request a basic data set including energy values for total demand, peak demand, and degree-day data for the local area. Other factors that impact the baseline for an office are interior office temperatures, utility bills, building occupancy and building operations. Data regarding building operation may be collected through observation and survey.

Office equipment also needs to be addressed. Some examples of information to collect are: specification sheets for lighting sources, heating (furnace), cooling (air conditioning), and electronic equipment. Equipment specifications will also be addressed through questions posed by the online energy analyzer.

Energy audit analysis

An energy audit analysis includes the analysis of data collected in the energy profile and some preliminary conclusions, such as a baseline energy chart. The online energy analyzer, a series of Excel spreadsheets, and qualitative analysis are utilized to analyze the data and generate materials for the displays and presentations for the Living Office Project.

Energy accounting

Energy accounting continues to track the environmental variables and costs listed above. Energy accounting is a crucial part of determining and developing an energy action plan. The ongoing data collection associated with energy accounting can reveal positive or negative trends in sustainability. Some specific examples of energy accounting are the following:

Living Office action plan

This project's conclusion is the Living Office action plan because the success of the project is contingent on an ongoing process of change and developments in energy efficiency. The action plan uses the data analysis to generate a preplanned, yet flexible, methodology to transition further toward a Living Office environment.

The four sections listed above are not isolated entities; studies and methodologies within each phase will overlap and may appear out of order at times. The Living Office Project is an ongoing process, so actions and hypotheses may be tested, repeated, revised and reintroduced later.

The Living Office in action, year 1

Heating and cooling are major portions of AEM Group’s energy usage. Our landlord was helpful: he has added more insulation in our ceilings and walls, programmable thermostats, and door sweeps on exterior doors. He has also agreed to switch out the lighting with a more efficient system.

Within the office, we have switched from 30% to 100% recycled paper; increased two-sided printing; and increased reports delivered as PDFs. We drive to lunch in groups, have an active recycling area in our Break Room, and have asked our janitorial service to switch to less toxic chemicals. We have even found a less toxic whiteboard cleaner.

It has been very successful from a people perspective. Everyone involved understood the importance of this task and was willing to help.

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