Integrating Financial, Environmental and Human Capital -the Triple Bottom Line- For High Performance Investments in the Build Environment

2018-01-19T00:00:00Z (GMT) by Rohini Srivastava

Residential and commercial buildings account for almost 40 % of total U.S. energy consumption and U.S. carbon dioxide emissions (Pew Center, 2009). Nearly all of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the residential and commercial sectors can be attributed to energy use in buildings, making high performance energy efficient buildings central to addressing diminishing resources and transitioning to a green economy. However, energy efficiency in buildings receives inadequate attention because first least cost decision-making as opposed to life cycle cost analysis (Romm, 1999). When life cycle analysis is used, it typically captures only the ‘hard’ financial cost benefits of operational energy and maintenance savings, but rarely includes environmental capital or human capital savings. This thesis proposes an empirical approach to triple bottom line calculations that integrates the economic, environmental and human cost benefits to accelerate investments in high performance building technologies. The development of a new methodology for capital expenditures in investments in the built environment can provide compelling arguments for decision makers and encourage the widespread adoption of high performance building technologies. In the first bottom line, this research quantifies the ‘financial’ or capital costs and benefits of high performance building investments, by broadening the category of associated benefits beyond energy savings from an investment (Birkenfeld et al., 2011). Traditionally, building investment decisions are made using a value engineering approach, which is driven by the agenda of cost reduction rather than valuing the benefit of different alternatives. Using net present value (NPV) and return on investment (ROI) indices, well-known in financial practices, the first bottom line calculation in this thesis moves away from a ‘first least cost’ to a life cycle approach to account for multiple non-energy financial benefits that can directly be quantified for the building decision maker. To advance a second bottom line that can be translated into Corporate Sustainability Reporting, the thesis provides a methodology for capturing the environmental benefits of reducing electricity demand related to carbon, air quality and water resources. These calculations are based on three levels of information - electricity fuel sources and power plant quality, the respective air pollution and water consumption consequences, and emerging valuation incentives for pollution reduction. The methodology focuses on critical greenhouse gases CO2, CH4; SOx, NOx, as well as particulates and water use, for three global scenarios – an emerging economy such as India, a country with mid-level sustainability goals such as the US, and a leading economy with low carbon growth goals such as the EU - in order to represent the range of environmental impacts of electric energy use. The capital saved by avoiding the environmental impacts of electricity use based on fuel source and mix can thus be added to each kilowatt-hour of electricity saved in a second bottom line calculation. To advance the third bottom line, this thesis engages a methodology for measuring and quantifying human benefits from building investments based on ongoing development of CMU CBPD's BIDS toolkit. The methodology is built on the field and laboratory research findings that link high performance building design decisions to human health and individual and organizational productivity. This thesis advances an approach to handling the third bottom line calculations, including an approach to establishing baselines, applying a broad base of laboratory and field findings. Given first cost data from vendors, first bottom line simple paybacks for 12 energy retrofit measures ranges from 2-20 years - with energy and facility management savings. When the environmental benefits are included, simple paybacks were accelerated to 1.5-18 years. Most strikingly, when human benefits are included - from reduced headaches and absenteeism to improved task performance or productivity - paybacks for investments in energy efficiency in US offices are often less than 1 year. To support the validity and reliability of results, both quantitative and qualitative methods were used to validate how Triple Bottom Line (TBL) cost benefits might impact and shift decision-making patterns from a least-first-cost approach to an approach that includes TBL information. Field testing of the potential influence on decision makers to move beyond first-cost decision-making to support investments in high performance, energy efficient technologies revealed the positive impact of Triple Bottom Line accounting for decision makers (p<0.05). The introduction of triple bottom line accounting for decision-makers in the built environment may be the most critical catalyst for investments in building energy improvements.