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Guidelines to Selling Sustainability

Originally published: 07.01.13 by Frank Rotello


Sustainability presents commercial HVAC growth opportunities

Selling sustainability is about offering a long term value to your customers, one that will provide a payback for years to come in the form of lower operating costs and greater tenant satisfaction. The sales process is based on presenting data and solid solutions while building a durable relationship with your customers.

Sustainability is Good Business

Sustainability is not a mere trend in the industry—it offers real benefits to property owners and operators, as well as facility occupants. The first and most important benefit is savings.

According to the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, energy consumption represents 30 percent of a typical commercial office building’s operating costs. This makes energy the single largest controllable cost of operations and means improved energy efficiency has a direct and substantial payback for building owners. For example, the EPA says a 30 percent reduction in energy use can deliver the equivalent of a five percent increase in net operating income (NOI) and overall asset value.

Enhancing the sustainability of a facility will typically improve occupant comfort as well. This results in fewer complaints about temperature and air quality, which are among the biggest routine operational headaches—and costs—faced by

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building managers. Furthermore, comfortable building occupants are happier, healthier and more productive, so sustainability can help attract and retain tenants for a property.

Thanks to advances in technology, turning an inefficient facility into a sustainable one is not prohibitively expensive, so owners today are realizing strong returns and swift payback periods for sustainability projects.

Presenting the Facts

When it comes to selling sustainability and energy efficiency, the process must be grounded in factual information and solid data. For each customer, collect utility bills, catalog all building data, perform a walk through, analyze plans and building specs, and talk to maintenance personnel—they will know the strengths and weaknesses of the building. Using this information, you can compare current and historical energy usage in order to assess the energy intensity of the facility and create a building energy model. Then you can develop a comprehensive solution employing the various techniques required to move the building toward sustainability.

Next, using the data and the information obtained by touring the facility, determine what systems need to be repaired, updated or replaced to achieve the targeted efficiency. These will include HVAC controls, HVAC equipment such as chillers and boilers, drives and motors and all the components that use energy and make a building operational. When presenting this information to building owners, be sure it includes not just the cost to repair and replace, but the estimated ROI, along with the payback period for the project. The building modeling and benchmarking data will be key to supporting this part of the proposal and demonstrating the sustainable benefits.

Selling Value

Building owners will certainly scrutinize the payback period to assess the affordability of the sustainability project, but this is not the only way to cover the costs. Many utility companies offer generous rebate programs to defray some of the costs associated with implementing energy-saving improvements. There are also various state programs to fund energy efficiency projects, usually managed by a state energy office. Presenting information on these funding sources and how to obtain the money will make the decision to move forward with the energy project easier for most owners.

Fortunately, the costs of sustainability projects, which have often been perceived as expensive, have come down. Emphasis on energy savings and sustainability over the past 10 or more years has spurred research and development into many new energy-saving products, systems and technologies that are now very cost-effective to deploy.

The most successful strategy for selling sustainability, however, won’t focus on the costs, but rather on the overall value of the project. This enables contractors to avoid falling into the trap of, for example, selling HVAC controls or equipment as a commodity.

The benefits of sustainability on the bottom line are long term, having the greatest impact on total cost of operation for the building over a span of years. Owners looking for a short-term gain will not be the best targets for an energy-saving project. Building operators who want to reduce operating costs for years ahead, while creating a more healthy and comfortable indoor environment, will recognize that sustainability is a good value.

Having buy-in and commitment to sustainability from not only owners but building management and occupants is also important to the long-term success of a project. When building occupants and users are educated and aware of the sustainability goals of the building and how they can contribute to saving resources, they feel responsible. This participation can even contribute as much as 10 percent to overall savings. Sharing information about energy use and conservation objectives, as well as other sustainability goals, is one way to get occupants involved. Some buildings even display energy use in real time to motivate occupants to conserve.

Contractor Benefits

Finally, how does selling sustainability benefit the BAS or HVAC contractor? The reward is in the long-term relationships the contractor builds with owners and operators. Not only are the benefits of energy-saving projects realized over the long haul, they must also be sustained with ongoing services. Without proper operations and ongoing maintenance to keep systems, controls and equipment at their peak, energy conservation measures will deliver declining results. This ongoing work is an excellent revenue stream and positions the contractor as the one to call when systems and equipment need replacing or updating.

Frank Rotello is vice president of InsideIQ Building Automation Alliance, an international alliance of independent building automation contractors representing common automation and security system platforms. A 30-year veteran of the industry, Rotello is also the CEO of Alpha Controls & Services in Rockford, IL.


Articles by Frank Rotello

Guidelines to Selling Sustainability

Selling sustainability is about offering a long-term value to your customers that will provide a payback for years to come. The sales process is based on presenting data and solid solutions while building a durable relationship with your customers.
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