Upskilling an Entire Industry for the Needs of an Energy Efficient 21st Century

Posted by Nick Prigo - On January 20, 2011 (EST)

Editor’s Note: Nick Prigo is a Green Buildings Metrics Analyst for the 32BJ Thomas Shortman Training Fund in New York City, which received a $2.8million U.S. DOL Energy Training Partnership Grant to fund its program 1,000 Green Supers.

Buildings in the United States consume more energy (39%) and generate more greenhouse gas pollution (38%) than any other sector of the economy, including transportation or industry. In New York City this problem is especially pronounced, with buildings responsible for 66% of total energy use and 78% of city greenhouse gas emissions. (1)

The cheapest, fastest way to save energy is to improve the performance of existing buildings with more efficient heating, cooling, lighting, and better operations and maintenance. We have known for more than 25 years that better operations and maintenance alone can reduce a building’s energy use by as much as 10% per year. This seemingly small percentage adds up quickly. If all of NYC’s large apartment buildings achieved these savings, New Yorkers could save $230 million every year and reduce carbon pollution by the equivalent of taking 150,000 cars off the road. (2)

Superintendents are responsible for the operations and maintenance of New York City’s large residential buildings. They manage a building’s workforce, they interact with a building’s tenants, and they communicate with a building’s owners. Superintendents are the focal point through which all green elements must flow. Without a green super the efforts of owners, tenants, and the public to improve the efficiency of a building is limited.

There is only one way to capture the tremendous savings potential for green operations and maintenance – training. An entire industry needs to be upskilled to meet the needs of an energy efficient 21st century. Upskilling will convert the existing job of superintendent into a new green job – the green superintendent.

The labor union SEIU Local 32BJ represents about 5,000 superintendents – which covers about 80% of the large multifamily buildings in New York City. The 32BJ Thomas Shortman Training Fund (TSTF) provides free industry training to 32BJ members. This setup provides an unparalleled opportunity to upskill an entire industry all at once.

We at TSTF are fortunate recipients of Recovery Act funding from the USDOL. This funding allows us to provide green buildings training to 2,000 incumbent building service workers over two years and help shift an entire industry towards a green future. Our Green Supers program, is a cooperative effort between building owners, property managers, building service workers, and 32BJ. Participating firms send their supers to a rigorous 40-hour course that covers all aspects of green building operations and maintenance. It includes units on quantifying a building’s energy usage, optimizing heating, cooling, lighting and water use, sealing the building envelope, and using green cleaning products to improve indoor air quality. As of January, 2011, 800 building service workers have begun the training, and 550 of them have successfully received BPI certification.

The most innovative aspect of our training program is our broad framework of supportive activities. We had serious concerns that supers would attend our training program, learn lots of great information, and then fail to apply these new skills on the job when they returned to their buildings. That’s why we created the Green Coaching program. This follow-up service allows program alumni to have green building experts come out to their building and provide coaching on how to make the upgrades they want to make. Additional follow-up service include an online web community with blogger, a monthly newsletter sent to all program alumni, and one-on-one follow-up phone calls to all of our students letting them know about our follow-up services.

Positive reviews of our training have already led employers and employees in Westchester County, Northern New Jersey, and Philadelphia to express interest in joining. And we strongly believe that our Green Supers program can work as a template for future labor/management collaborations which aim to green the building service workforce of any major city. We hope that the example we set in New York City will inspire other municipalities, unions, and employer organizations to work together to help create the greener future we all need (and save some serious money in the process).

If you have any questions about our program feel free to contact me at

About the 32BJ Thomas Shortman Training Fund
- TSTF offers free training to 85,000 members of SEIU Local 32BJ working in the property services industry. The Training Fund is a joint labor-management organization, cosponsored by SEIU Local 32BJ and the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations. Every year TSTF provides industry, academic, and computer courses to thousands of Local 32BJ building service workers at 40 locations in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and The District of Columbia.


United States Green Building Council. “Green Building Research”, 2008

The City of New York. “PlaNYC: Inventory of New York City Greenhouse Gas Emissions“, 2010

Synectics Group for U.S. Department of Energy, “An Evaluation of the Institutional Conservation Program”, 1983

New Yorkers spend $13.4 billion each year on energy for buildings (PlaNYC). Apartment buildings with 5 or more units account for 23% of this demand (NYSERDA), or $3.1 billion annually. Of this energy demand, large buildings with more than 30 units account for 75% or $2.3 billion annually. If better O&M reduced energy use 10% in these large apartment buildings, New Yorkers would save more than $230 million every year.

According to PlaNYC, New York emitted 61 MMT of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2007. We multiplied by .77 for the share of emissions attributed to buildings, and then by .23 for the share of total building energy use by apartment buildings, then by .75 for the share of energy used by apartment buildings larger than 30 units to conclude that New York’s apartment buildings generate 8.1 MMT of carbon emissions each year. If each apartment building achieved 10% energy savings, carbon emission would be reduced by 0.8 MMT per year city-wide. Since a single automobile generates about 5.4 metric tons of carbon per year, reducing emissions by 0.8 MMT is equivalent to taking 150,000 cars off the road.

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