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Design Planning And Commissioning Key To Building Sustainably


When an architecture or civil engineering team begins the initial design process for a commercial building, there are several details to consider. While they often place emphasis on analyzing cost of materials and ensuring the building meets necessary requirements, some overlook how their designs will impact the overall sustainability of a building. But energy-efficient design can help buildings measure success and prove return on investment. In 2017, about 39% of total energy consumption in the U.S. was in residential or commercial buildings. By implementing sustainable design concepts early in the planning process, development teams can increase their building’s energy savings. An increasing number of construction and development firms have hired consultants and invested in commissioning services at the beginning of their projects to ensure their buildings use the least amount of energy at the lowest cost. 

“When it comes to saving energy, it really comes down to the architectural and engineering systems a building has in place,” EBI Consulting Director of Energy and Sustainability Mike Eardley said. “You need to consider the shell of the building, the glass and the walls, the layout and the orientation. A lot more focus has been put on buildings enclosure commissioning recently. We are moving from a mechanical engineering approach to architectural and more holistic thinking.” 

A mechanical engineer by trade, Eardley began his career in building design and eventually moved to commissioning. He leads the energy and sustainability commissioning practice at EBI Consulting, conducting energy audits and mechanical assessments for commercial real estate clients. 


Development teams invest in energy commissioning to ensure building systems are planned, tested and maintained effectively. When commissioning agents are brought onto projects, they review planned processes and services, including MEP and operations and maintenance. They also review the architecture and engineering design and identify that proper energy measures are spelled out in all initial plans. After inspecting engineering plans and surveying the proposed design, the agent or energy consultant can make recommendations and help implement a customized approach to a building’s energy efficiency. 

The commissioning process does not end at the planning and design stage. It is common for commissioning teams to remain involved throughout the building’s life cycle. 

“We often continue testing through the end of construction to make sure everything works correctly, and then also continue to monitor the building after people are living in it,” Eardley said. “Once you get facilities managers in a building and people living and working there, adjustments get made that undo a lot of the designer’s assumptions, so you need to keep commissioning that building even after it is turned over.”

The presence of a commissioning agent can help prevent costly errors. Some buildings use low-quality glass material, for example, which absorbs heat from the sun and causes high temperatures indoors. This requires more air conditioning and can hike up a building’s energy cost significantly. 

“I have seen luxury buildings that are just freezing cold or burning hot, because of fundamental design decisions and oversight or testing that was done lacklusterly,” Eardley said. 

More cities are holding landlords and property managers accountable for sustainability efforts. The city of New York has implemented Local Law 87, which requires buildings over 50K SF to undergo periodic energy audits and retro-commissioning measures. Chicago has also made a concerted effort to assist buildings in sustainability efforts. The Chicago Sustainable Development Policy allows development teams to choose from a menu of sustainability strategies, and assists buildings on how to achieve green building certifications. 

“My biggest advice to landlords and property managers is to get involved in commissioning your buildings and design,” Eardley said. "If you make sustainability a priority from the beginning, that can really make the biggest impact.”

This feature was produced in collaboration between Bisnow Branded Content and EBI Consulting. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.