Five years ago, when Patrick Flynn first started working at 150 Spear St. in San Francisco, the skyscraper’s Energy Star rating was 82. It’s a respectable number for an 18-story building with 285,000 square feet of space, but Flynn knew they could do better. As the building’s chief engineer, he’s institutionalized big and small changes that has enabled 150 Spear to reach an Energy Star rating of 99 out of 100 — the top score among the roughly 8,000 properties JLL manages across the globe.
Sparkfund: In five years you brought 150 Spear’s Energy Star rating up from 82 to 99. How did you accomplish that massive goal?
Patrick Flynn: It started with a plan to fix all of the energy hogs, and we moved forward from there.
During my tenure, we had a huge catastrophic event — an electrical feed exploded — and we had to shut down the building for six days. We took advantage of that circumstance and used the rebuild as an opportunity to add more efficient technology into the building. There were a lot of small things we did that added up to become a really big thing.
What are some of the most significant sustainability changes you made at 150 Spear?
The biggest change we underwent was the toilets, which went from 3.5-gallon to 1.28-gallon flushes. We also went from 2.2 gallons per minute on the bathroom sinks to .38 gallons.
Other examples are lighting, and light and occupancy sensors: We went from 32-watt bulbs to 25-watt bulbs simply because I stopped buying the higher wattage; As the sun comes in the room, a sensor can tell how bright it is and adjust the lights; If someone leaves the room, an occupancy sensor will turn the outlet off.
What’s one unexpected thing you’ve done to meet your goals?
Our building is still 80-90 percent pneumatically controlled by a variable air volume (VAV) heating and cooling system. Most buildings are now on direct digital control (DDC), but our system is old. And yet, somehow, we’re more efficient than many buildings that are full DDC. To me, that stands out. How do we have a 99 Energy Star score even though we’re still mostly on the low-tech stuff? It’s all calibrated correctly and running right.
What’s one innovation or piece of technology you’re most excited about?
The internet of things (IoT), which is how we’re going to connect all of these future pieces of technology. 150 Spear is pretty advanced that way. Our new access system is web-based, and all of our technology is on the same network, which means it’s possible for all of these technologies to talk to each other.
Imagine that when you come into the building in the morning, the building knows what floor you work on, so it can text you which elevator to stand in front of that will take you directly to your floor. When you get to your floor, the lights will be on and the room will be cooled to the temperature you like. This isn’t happening yet, but we’re not that far out.
What's a best practice that a small commercial building without a sustainability team can implement tomorrow?
First of all, my building only has me and one other guy, so reaching those goals is doable without a full team.
Really, meeting energy goals happens over time. It wasn’t instant. We started to implement projects on an as-you-can-do-it basis. I just decided to stop buying inefficient light bulbs. I looked into rebates when we were remodeling the restrooms and buying new toilets. It takes some extra time to get these things done, but planning ahead really helps.
If your goal is for a better Energy Star rating, remember that when you make a change in the building, the rating goes up for a year, not a day. That helps me prioritize projects, so I pick something that will give me the most bang for my buck the soonest, and then I continue improving from there.
What’s an industry trend you think flies under the radar?
California is ahead of other states because we have laws like Title 24, which is a building code that has energy conservation requirements. As a result, everyone is getting better at making things work in a more efficient way. (For example, fixtures can use smaller bulbs, and elevator modernization can result in a 50 percent energy savings.)
What’s one small thing you do every day to be environmentally friendly?
Recycle; I think recycling is a big deal. My wife and kids recycle at home, and we also recycle here in the building. Our building pays people to sort our trash into recycling and compost each month, which saves us money, despite paying their salaries. To know that it’s worth money to sort your trash is amazing.