Bridging the gap | Part 1: Empowering building engineers to enhance energy management

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Empowering Building Engineers

For years, we’ve worked to help building engineers run their buildings more efficiently. In an effort to better understand the challenges operating teams face – and, by extension, the challenges their larger organizations face – we recently conducted an extensive commercial real estate listening tour. Over the last several weeks, we met with industry professionals ranging from the top executives to the hands-on building operators at more than two dozen Class-A office buildings and documented their insights.

Today, we’re kicking off a blog series informed by their perspectives on the importance of bridging the gaps between CRE teams within organizations to facilitate better internal alignment and informed decision-making. We’ll start the series by covering the challenges faced by building engineers as they work to enhance their properties’ energy performance.

Subsequent posts will cover:

  • Property managers – the issues preventing property managers from effectively implementing energy efficiency initiatives.
  • Sustainability teams – the missing data sustainability leads need to make purposeful decisions.

Let’s dive in!

Challenges for building engineers

The stack of jobs for building engineers is extensive. From security to occupant engagement and vendor management, managing energy efficiency is just one of many daily tasks. While the engineers we’ve spoken with are supremely dedicated to optimizing their buildings’ energy performance, their best efforts are often stifled by three structural problems:

1) A fragmented approach to energy efficiency

Though most organizations set big energy goals – whether it’s reduced energy consumption or lower emissions – these goals rarely cascade down through the organization. Often, specific objectives aren’t included in job descriptions, causing confusion within teams about their responsibilities. As we met with different operators, we heard time and time again about the lack of energy goals at the building level: “No, I don’t have specific energy goals. It’s just about making sure we’re running efficiently to save money.”

2) A lack of communication across teams and buildings

Engineers are brimming with innovative ideas; each possesses a deep understanding of how to enhance operational efficiencies. Unfortunately, most firms lack the formal procedures and open lines of communication required to record and implement their ideas to improve energy performance throughout their organizations. This gap means that smart, energy-saving strategies developed at one location rarely benefit other properties in the portfolio. As one engineer noted, “I just take orders, that’s all I am. It feels like upper management doesn’t want to talk to me.” This absence of open communication across building levels not only stifles innovation but can also leave engineers feeling undervalued, especially when their proactive efforts go unrecognized. Another shared, “if you avoid a peak, does anyone say good job? No. But then we hear from [upper management]… if we’re doing something wrong.”

3) Difficulty acting on an overwhelming amount of data

While building engineers have access to extensive data from systems like the BMS, they often find the process of interpreting it to be challenging and incompatible with their routines. As one engineer put it, “The BMS is like having your nose up against a wall of data.” Though the information is there, it’s not structured in a way that supports quick, informed decision-making. And because access to this data is typically confined to a specific location like a basement computer, engineers often struggle to find the time to sort through it for meaningful insights, given their many other responsibilities and the mobile nature of their work.

Impacts of these challenges

The challenges faced by building engineers don’t just impact their daily tasks; they resonate throughout entire real estate organizations, leading to broader operational inefficiencies and missed strategic opportunities. When engineers struggle with unclear goals, limited communication, and inaccessible data, it creates a bottleneck in the flow of information and innovation across the company. Internal disconnection can lead to higher operational costs, slower response times to problems, and a failure to meet energy efficiency targets.

Firms affected by these issues frequently struggle to retain and attract tenants, satisfy investors’ climate risk concerns, and comply with municipal Building Performance Standards to avoid fines. Additionally, they risk losing talented engineers due to internal frustrations and a lack of recognition, further exacerbating these problems and degrading tenant satisfaction. Addressing engineers’ pain points is essential to both improving day-to-day operations and achieving long-term sustainability goals for the benefit of the whole firm. 

Potential solutions

In the context of these challenges, how do you bridge information gaps to improve organizational alignment? Software alone doesn’t decarbonize buildings. As a result, any approach needs to consider the people, processes, and technologies that support a cohesive energy management program. Based on our conversations, these are the approaches that leading CRE companies are piloting to make more rapid progress toward their energy and sustainability goals:

People

Establishing regular, structured forums such as town hall meetings and roundtable discussions with property managers, chief engineers, and sustainability teams could foster better communication and idea sharing across properties.

Process

Developing standardized training programs and incorporating energy management goals into job descriptions and performance evaluations could help align individual responsibilities with organizational energy targets. Implementing a standard process for sharing best practices and innovations across the portfolio would ensure that successful strategies are widely adopted.

Technology

Advanced platforms like Cortex can transform how engineers interact with data. By providing actionable insights and real-time guidance, Cortex can serve as a ‘GPS’ for building operations, helping engineers navigate the complexities of energy management with greater ease and precision.

The bottom line

As we continue to explore the critical role of building engineers in achieving corporate sustainability goals, it’s clear that bridging the gap between high-level directives and day-to-day operations is essential. By fostering a culture of open communication, ensuring alignment of goals at all levels, and enhancing access to actionable data, organizations can significantly enhance their energy management practices. Implementing solutions like Cortex that address these gaps not only boosts operational efficiency but also empowers engineers, reinforcing their vital role in the organization’s success.

Learn more about Cortex to discover how your engineering team can leverage our real-time, actionable insights to make daily progress toward your company’s climate objectives.

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