U.S. office buildings aren't as smart as they could be, and companies are paying the price in wasted energy, high operating costs and lost productivity, according to new research from IBM.
For its Smarter Buildings study, IBM surveyed 6,486 office workers in 16 U.S. cities and asked them about 10 building-related issues, including elevator wait times, the use of sensors that adjust lights and temperature, and use of renewable energy sources.
Elevators proved to be a huge time waster. IBM tallied the cumulative time that office workers spent waiting for elevators during the past 12 months. New York City topped the list (16.6 years), followed by Los Angeles (8.7 years), Chicago (9 years) and Houston (6.8) years.
Workers in the same cities also logged thousands of hours stuck in elevators during the past 12 months: New York City (5.9 years), Los Angeles (4.3 years), Chicago (3.2 years) and Houston (2.9 years).
Overall, the study identified plenty of opportunity for improving building efficiency.
Buildings consume 72% of all electricity (50% of which is wasted), generate 38% of electricity-related greenhouse gases, and emit more emissions than our cars do, according to IBM. Yet U.S. office buildings have failed to keep pace with the available automation technologies, says IBM, which offers management software, systems and services for automating building operations.
"Even as automobiles, transportation systems, electrical grids and other modern systems are achieving greater efficiency, many office buildings remain rooted in the past," said Rich Lechner, vice president for energy and environment at IBM, in a statement. Better efficiency at the system level could help companies save on energy and maintenance costs, plus improve employee productivity, he added.
Nationwide, just 27% of respondents work in office buildings that can automatically sense when people are in a room and adjust lights or temperature accordingly. In addition, 31% say their office buildings have low-flow toilets, and 14% report that their office buildings make use of solar energy or another renewable energy source.
Low emission and sustainable materials (such as low VOC paint and sustainable carpet) are used to improve indoor air quality in 26% of respondents' office buildings.
A majority of workers polled expressed a desire to help with green building efforts. Roughly 79% of respondents say that they conserve resources such as water or electricity as part of their regular routine at work. Most (75%) would be more likely to conserve resources at work if they were rewarded for the effort.
Geographically, Los Angeles came out on top in IBM's Smarter Buildings study. LA has the highest percentage (40%) of respondents who say their office buildings automatically sense when people are in a room and adjust lights and temperature accordingly; the highest percentage (22%) whose office buildings make use of renewable energy sources such as solar; and the highest percentage (35%) who work in buildings that use products to improve air quality. LA also has the most Energy Star-labeled buildings, with 293 of them in 2009, according to the Environmental Protection Agency's latest tally.
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