High performance buildings must meet specific standards for energy efficiency, system reliability, environmental compliance and occupant comfort and safety, and are continually measured and validated.

That includes meeting green standards during construction. But it also means ensuring that buildings remain operating at high levels of efficiency. That requires a whole other skill set and continual monitoring and tweaking.

Trane North America is a division of Ingersoll Rand, a firm that specializes in creating efficient environments in commercial, residential and industrial markets. Trane strives to create high-performance buildings by combining financial, operating and energy analysis with specialized service offerings and available financing.

NREI spoke to Trane North America’s Jason Bingham, central territory vice president, who develops strategies, planning processes and leadership curricula for use across the United States.

NREI: According to the US. Green Building Council, buildings account for 72 percent of total energy consumption in the U.S. How can buildings be made to perform better?

Bingham: There are two different thought processes around your question—one is energy and the other is how the building’s environment affects the customer’s mission.

If we solely focus on energy consumption, we can poorly impact what the customer’s trying to achieve. For instance, in K-12 education facilities, if we only focus on energy but we don’t also try to increase attendance rates through their environment, then we could actually be destructive to children learning.

NREI: So what does it mean to have a high performance building?

Bingham: High-performance building is about connecting the environment to the customer’s mission. [It] is the cost of that environment and energy and those types of things. But it’s also about how that environment affects and can positively impact what that building is trying to achieve.

The cost piece falls into two buckets: operating costs and costs for energy, water, gas and so forth. The high-performance building’s approach on the cost side is to build critical systems that meet the need of the customer regarding longevity and uptime. We need to spend the right costs upfront, but also assure ourselves that we are “best in class” on the cost side. By that, I mean being the best when comparing our building against similar buildings and similar businesses.

Some businesses are very concerned with the industrial process and that takes precedence over everything else. And so in comparing industrials, [we ask], “How are we doing around energy in creating the environment for that process?”

When I talk about industrial buildings and healthcare and K-12 facilities, the mission is obviously what’s important to them and they are trying to achieve. It’s slightly different for each type of high-performance building.

Within verticals like healthcare, they’re focused on operating rooms and it’s critical that they get 60 degrees during operating time and up to 72 degrees when it’s recuperating time. Those are tricky environments where we’ve got to do it in an energy- and operationally-effective way, but also achieve the healing of patients.

NREI: How can the potential for energy efficiency across the country be achieved through creating more high-performance buildings?

Bingham: I think there are two key shifts that need to happen in the minds of building owners. The first key shift is recognizing that the facility is an opportunity for investment rather than a cost. That’s really the approach we take in creating high-performance buildings.

The investment you make is safe because the return on investment is pretty much guaranteed and that return is a greater percentage than you would be able to get in other investment options.

And once you make green “green’’—in other words, once you go after energy reductions, carbon dioxide reductions, sulfur dioxide reductions—once you make those reductions “green” in terms of return on investment, then you really capitalize on that 72 percent of energy consumption that’s out there in buildings.

The second answer is you can’t stop there. You’ve got to look at service. You’ve got to shift your mindset from service being a reactionary “fix it on failure” type approach to a proactive intelligent services approach where you are constantly monitoring and sustaining [the building].

NREI: Are building owners becoming more receptive to this shift in approach?

Bingham: Absolutely. I was with the CEO of a major healthcare institution a couple months ago, and I looked her in the eye and said, “Your building’s environment is impacting not only your cost but things like patient satisfaction and also nursing satisfaction and because of that it’s impacting your bottom line.” And she looked at me with somewhat of a pause, and then an “A-hah!” light blinked on in her head and she said, “You are absolutely right. I can’t believe I have not thought of that before.”

NREI: What are some of the incentives that are working to make building owners more interested in high-performance buildings?

Bingham: I think the key thing is turning green to green. Once you make the ecological economical, you don’t need an incentive. That is the incentive. The dollar you invested gets you a return.

NREI: Are there any breakthroughs on the horizon to make high-performance buildings more commonplace?

Bingham: If you look at your building as an investment opportunity, there’s a lot of technology for being able to analyze [energy consumption] quickly. [There are] some pretty cool tools that we’re creating, so you know where you stand today with your building compared to similar buildings and other similar businesses and therefore can recognize the potential and whether it’s worth it to go down the high-performance road today.

Our customers don’t have any time, so if you can get technology tools that quickly identify where you are versus best in class and what the cost might be to get from here to best in class, then you can quickly identify a potential return on investment and whether it’s worth going high-performance.

On the service side, where you’re changing your thinking from service being reactive to proactive, we’ve got some cool stuff that’s already developed and is getting enhanced daily around intelligent services. Picture being able to monitor continually all of your building’s critical systems. You can recognize when there are either small opportunities within the critical system or the system’s operating systems have gone down. You can catch that before it impacts you and immediately contact some smart people in different locations and pool their knowledge to shift operations.

NREI: When did you notice an increase in interest in high-performance buildings?

Bingham:The energy costs that have been rising since early 2000 have been driving a lot of this. So the high-performance building in concept has been in some form or fashion in certain areas building since early 2000.

And it became clear right away that it wasn’t like the 1970s it wasn’t going to go away and so you started to build a very firm base back in 2000 that this was real and we had to do something about it. And then when 2008 hit and with it came the focus on cost, the less with more, the reduction in the number of people to focus their time on these types of things, you really had to find partners to help you get things done.

NREI: Where do you see things being in, say, about five years from now?

Bingham:I think the proactive customers will already have been there—I mean healthcare, education, higher education, industrial buildings in particular. I think they will already have proved that [the high-performance building] works, five years from now, and they will be influencing their peers substantially. The initial jumper-ins will be already done with that cycle five years from now and the second wave will be starting to get into the process.

NREI: How do we know that high-performance buildings really work?

Bingham:Let me give you some of the proof points will help get people in the game.

In 2008, one of our offices went back to see how they’d impacted our environment. What they found is that they’d saved 72 million pounds of carbon dioxide, 140 pounds of nitrous oxide, and 315,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide.

That equates to 5,000 cars being off the road and 10,000 acres of trees being planted. And that’s the impact of just one office. Just think what’s going on across the nation and the fact that these figures come from 2008—and what’s going on in 2011? And then go back to your point that very few of the 72 percent of buildings are in the game, and imagine what we could do together if we focused on this.