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Darwin Revisited: Managing Cell Growth with Sustainability Dashboards

Written by  Stephen Ashkin

cell biologists

More than thirty years ago, a well-respected scientist and professor, Dr. Irv Konigsberg, was one of the first cell biologists to master the art of cloning stem cells. He was also famous for telling his students that when the cultured cells his students were studying appeared to be ailing, “you look first to the cell’s environment, not to the cell itself, for the cause.”

What he was saying was pretty profound. An ailing cell could be sick not due to its own biology or structure, as many scientists originally thought, but due to the ailing of the environment in which it was living. However, Konigsberg was not the first scientist to observe this connection.

Towards the end of his life, Charles Darwin, best known for his book, On the Origin of the Species, which is considered the foundation for the theory of evolution, wrote to a friend, “In my opinion, the greatest error which I have committed has been not allowing sufficient weight to the direct action of the environments i.e. food, climate, etc. When I wrote the Origin, I could find little good evidence of the direct action of the environment; now there is a large body of evidence.”*

If contract cleaners were ever looking for the true purpose of their profession, they just found it. Cleaning contractors, when using the proper protective gear, tools, chemicals, and equipment, keep the indoor environment healthy. And without maintaining this healthy environment, the people using these facilities – just as the living cells discussed above – would be ailing. We’ve heard of the connection between proper cleaning and good health for quite some time now. But we see that this link is validated by science and by one of the most famous scientists in history.

More and more of us realize the direct connection between effective cleaning and health. And because of this awareness, many are turning to building service contractors to not only keep their facilities clean and healthy but also to find ways to make them greener and more sustainable. If we look at this more closely, we can see that good health, green, and sustainability actually are interconnected. It would be hard to have a healthy facility that is not also being maintained in an environmentally preferable way. Further, a healthy building uses natural resources prudently, efficiently, and responsibly.

As building service contractors and their facility manager partners seek to accomplish this goal, this is where sustainability dashboard technologies come into the picture. Cleaning contractors and their clients can use new dashboard technologies to ensure facilities are healthy while simultaneously minimizing their environmental footprint. 

Up to speed on dashboards

In its own way, we could consider the ATM machine we use on a regular basis to be a type of dashboard. Put in your card, punch in your PIN, and most ATM systems not only tell your current balances on different accounts, they post recent checks and deposits on the screen; access credit card transactions; allow you to pay bills; transfer money, etc. Essentially they provide up-to-theminute tracking information on all your accounts and finances.

Well, a sustainability dashboard does about the same thing but instead of keeping track of financials, it helps you and your client stay current on how much energy and water the facility is using, the amount of waste it is generating, and other metrics. These are referred to as a facility’s key performance indicators (KPI). Along with up-to-theminute information on these metrics, they track trends for contractors and building managers. If, for example, water use is up in a facility compared to several months ago, but there appears to be no reason for this increased consumption, at least now you and your customer know there is an issue, can look for the reason, and address it. 

When sustainability dashboards first made their marketplace entrance, it was typically very large facilities that were interested in them. However, today we are finding all types of facilities, large and small, and a wide variety of facilities, from schools and universities to industrial factories and warehouses, using the dashboard systems to track KPI. They do this for many reasons but, for the most part, it comes down to the following:

Savings: Because facilities that employ green and sustainable practices use natural resources more efficiently, this invariably translates into cost savings.

Compliance tracking: Some facilities are working to comply with certain regulations, for instance using less water; having a dashboard system helps them know exactly how much water is being used in the facility at any time. 

LEED certification and tracking: Some facilities seeking LEED certification use dashboards as a guide to determine how well they are doing in meeting the necessary certification standards; for those facilities that have already been LEED certified, dashboards help them ensure they are still meeting the necessary LEED criteria.

Performance data: Many facilities now want to track KPI just as they do other metrics of their facilities such as tenant vacancy rates, income, operating expenses, etc. It provides additional insight as to how a facility is performing, tracks trends, and provides actionable insight for making changes in the future.

Computer Interface

Typical types of input and reports generated with a sustainability dashboard include: building’s energy use (this year compared to last year) comparison of how different buildings are doing, used to prioritize which buildings need improvement. In addition, the dashboard can show how the buildings are doing compared to other similar buildings (not just their own) when normalized by square footage, number of occupants and number of computers.

Putting a dashboard to work

Just to show how a dashboard might help one of your clients and in so doing build customer loyalty for you–let’s create the following scenario. A facility you clean or manage pays on average $10,000 every month for electricity. This information has been inputted into the dashboard and it is now recognized as our benchmark–where things stand now. You are working with to bring that expenditure down to $8,000 per month. To do this, you develop an ‘energy’ color coding system for your client. 

Here’s how it might work:

• There will be some electronic equipment in a facility that must be on for twenty-four hours. A green sticker is applied to those machines.

• Some equipment can be turned off after business hours but this may need verification first by the building manager. Let’s place a yellow sticker on those.

• A grey sticker may be applied to those electronic devices where no decision has been reached as to whether to turn it on or turn it off.

• A red sticker can be placed on all electrical items that can be turned off completely after business hours. This could include such things as lights, vending machines, copiers, HVAC systems, and a key item often overlooked, equipment that is turned off at the switch but still using ‘standby power.2

Depending on the size of the facility these steps can make a surprisingly big difference. It is estimated that office equipment, one of the fastest growing electricity users in North America in commercial buildings, consumes about seven percent of all the electricity consumed in a commercial building. This amounts to about two billion dollars annually. Working with a dashboard system and placing red, yellow, and yellow stickers on office equipment that can be completely shut down when not in use can prove to be a very effective way to help your client reach that eight thousand dollar goal.

* Source for quotes, Biology of Belief, by Bruce Lipton, Hay House, Revised version 2008.



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