Home » Business Topics

Data-driven solutions to creating a net-zero office space

  • Jane Marsh 

A net-zero office space produces emissions equal to or less than the amount it removes from the atmosphere. Options for achieving that goal include using renewable energy and reducing waste. Data-driven actions can help decision-makers reach their net-zero goals.

Identify unnecessary energy usage

An office can become more emissions-intensive than people realize if they don’t pinpoint areas of unnecessary resource usage. Perhaps an office has fewer on-site staff due to a recently implemented hybrid work policy. One option is to ensure their desktop computers don’t stay on while they’re away.

People should also take a closer look at categorizing office devices that can and cannot power down when the office is less occupied. One energy manager at a Texas nonprofit found that the office ice machine consumed 1.5% of the organization’s annual energy. That investigation also showed that the two restaurant-style coffee machines in the office used 1% of the annual energy.

The energy manager determined that the ice machine must stay running during low or no-occupancy periods. However, there was no need to keep using both coffee machines. After several conversations and a data-backed meeting about coffee machine energy consumption, employees agreed.

The approach was to unplug and store one appliance while continuing to use the other. That way, the organization could still rely on it for specific instances that necessitate increased usage, but it was no longer needlessly using energy.

Data quantifies the impact of individual assets. Many individuals are so accustomed to having those appliances plugged in and available that they may not immediately understand how much those items contribute to wasted energy and raise emissions. Some organizations also have chief sustainability officers who identify profitable solutions across departments by working with other executives.

Track the effects of changes made

Working toward net zero often requires altering processes and buying energy-efficient products. Some leaders initially hesitate to do those things because of the needed changes, but they get more on board after seeing evidence of improvement. It’s also important to remember that not all changes involve spending money.

Lighting accounts for about 12% of the total energy used in commercial buildings. One of the best ways to reduce that percentage is to take advantage of natural lighting when available. Many people habitually switch on lights when they come into the room. Could they get similar results from pulling up a window shade? If so, they should strongly consider creating new habits.

Once leaders see how behavioral changes bring net-zero improvements, they should be more willing to invest in products such as energy-efficient lights that work on a timer system.

Use models to see the likely effects of different strategies

There’s no guaranteed way to see the payoffs of specific changes to an office building, but computerized models can remove much of the uncertainty and guesswork. Then, people can prioritize the upgrades that will bring the most advantages.

Consider an example where University of Cambridge engineers made models of multistory buildings to learn which changes would bring the most emissions reductions and operational improvements. Overall, their data showed planners could save 28% to 44% of annual energy from heating and cooling and 6 gigatonnes of cumulative embodied carbon dioxide equivalent from now until 2050.

The models showed that certain changes, such as using timber or steel frames instead of concrete, installing smaller windows with appropriate glazing for the climate, and opting for buildings with fewer stories when possible, could all cut carbon emissions associated with those structures. These suggestions should help decision-makers as they decide how to improve existing office spaces through remodeling or need to make new ones.

Data matters for reaching net-zero goals

Improving an office to meet net-zero milestones can be daunting. However, things become much more achievable when people use data to steer and shape their choices.