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Entry-Level BIT Building Program Now More User Friendly

A fresh online platform for BIT, which targets low-performing existing buildings, draws users through simple, low-cost, step-by-step improvements.
Paula Melton
May 16, 2023

a screen capture showing energy data from a building portfolio in the BIT building platform

Users of the new BIT Building platform can monitor progress, manage resource consumption, and support sustainability goals across a portfolio or for one building at a time.

Image: Southface institute
LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance (O+M) is designed to make pretty good buildings even better. But O+M has never really gone after low-performing buildings.

The 2009 version, for example, required a minimum Energy Star score of 69 (indicating the 69th percentile, or the top 31%) for most building types. In v4, the minimum went up to 75, serving only those that could make it into the top 25%. And there’s little built-in technical guidance in O+M to help average and below-average performers rise to that level.

BIT Building—a process tool as much as a certification—was first conceived of by WSP’s Jenny Carney in 2013 to fill that market gap.

BIT users have included Google and the Chicago Housing Authority, but after years of slow uptake (there are currently 79 participating buildings and just 27 certified), the program, now managed by Southface Institute, is looking for better ways to engage with owners and facility managers. (Disclosure: WSP is BuildingGreen’s partner in LEEDuser content development. BuildingGreen also developed and still hosts a website called BITuser, modeled after LEEDuser, through a contract with Southface.)

The goal? To make good on BIT’s longstanding promise of low barriers to entry and ease of use.

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A new BIT platform

The substance of BIT hasn’t changed, not one … bit.

The program consists of 16 best practices for improving energy, water, waste, and IAQ performance. Achieve a certain level of performance across these categories, and you can apply for third-party review and certification. BIT certification is recognized in GRESB, the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) program for the real estate industry.

What has changed, according to Southface’s Stephen Ward, is that users will no longer have to access three different websites and reference a PDF manual to understand, achieve, and report their progress on the best practices. (BITuser, for example, is soon to be retired.) Instead, a new online platform (currently in beta and scheduled for public release June 5) will provide all the information in one place and draw users through a series of pragmatic steps to take next. And next. And next.

“It removes the roadblock of ‘I can’t because…’,” explained Ward. Like BIT itself, the tool now “helps with that first step into sustainability,” he said. “It removes the veneer of it being scary.”

Just getting started is a win

The platform includes a “next best action” feature and, critically, does complex calculations behind the scenes based on answers to questionnaires.

For example, there’s a tool for estimating your energy and water baselines before you have to start putting in meter readings or utility bills. Ward described it as a “20-minute survey of yes-or-no questions about how your project is currently operating.” Each question displays a default answer in bold, so if you don’t know, you can just let the system assume the worst.

This survey “provides a high-level view of a project’s operational profile,” said Ward, and it even estimates current energy and water performance. Then it offers low-cost recommendations, starting, Ward said, with “things that cost less than $500” and provides expected outcomes of these measures. For example, the average cost savings just from starting to track and benchmark energy consumption is 3%.

These estimates “may not be exact, but it at least provides some sort of guidance on where should I focus my attention without doing calculations,” noted Ward. “Let’s at least focus on where we can get the biggest bang for our buck.”

Meeting facility managers where they are

LEED O+M can get complicated, and if you have to hire outside help, it can also be a significant investment.

LEED is holistic and important for incentivizing great performance, and the plaque bestows considerable prestige in many places. But there are whole segments of the market for which LEED is out of reach—and in some places, it may not have the same cachet as it does in big coastal cities. If prospective tenants and occupants don’t demand a LEED plaque, investing in certification might appear less enticing for owners.

BIT does not compete with LEED. Instead, it addresses underserved market segments, offering a very low price point and supporting busy facility managers, many of whom are trying to meet contemporary performance and comfort demands in older buildings.

“As a facility manager, you get so used to putting out fires that trying to think in broader terms can be difficult,” said Ward. “We strip away the Google search that can take you down a rabbit hole.”

Ward added that BIT is all about trying “to meet you where you are” while also offering a way forward: “Here’s the next step in doing better.”

Date updated: 
Tuesday, May 16, 2023

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April 29, 2024 - 11:14 pm

a great post

May 18, 2023 - 10:37 am

Great to see this approach is getting refined and enhanced. LEED EBOM should include a signifigant improvement path. I was arguing this more than a decade ago. Shaking my head, rolling my eyes. Good to see that work is still being done on this Jenny Carney!