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IBM: Office buildings waste energy, people's time

Survey shows that buildings rate poorly on green features such as energy and water use, while years are wasted waiting for elevators.

Office buildings are still in the Stone Age when it comes to efficiency, according to an IBM survey of U.S. office workers released Thursday.

Only about one-third of the people surveyed from 16 U.S. cities said their office building is "environmentally friendly" and conserves energy by automatically adjusting lights and temperature. About 65 percent of survey respondents favor redesigning their workspace to be more environmentally responsible.

Time is also being wasted in these office buildings, with one-quarter of almost 6,500 respondents saying that elevators are poorly coordinated. IBM estimates the cumulative time the U.S. office workers spent stuck in or waiting for elevators over the past 12 months is a mind-boggling 125 years.

The Genzyme headquarters in Cambridge, Mass., a platinum level green building, brings daylight into the building and has numerous other energy-saving features. Click to view photo gallery.

The study shows that buildings face an "intelligence gap" compared with automobiles and the electricity grid, both of which are being modernized with technology, IBM's vice president of energy and environment, Rich Lechner, said in a statement. Buildings could be far more efficient by using sensors to detect light or temperature and utilizing management systems, according to IBM. Building modernization, by the way, is one area in which IBM is seeking to generate business.

In addition to lowering the operating costs, green building features, such as better use of daylight and good air quality, have shown to result in higher worker productivity, according to green building professionals.

Some of the traditional barriers to investment in green buildings are higher upfront costs of materials and general inertia in the building industry.

The IBM survey revealed that although technology could improve environmental performance of buildings, individuals are willing to conserve electricity and water at work. Seventy-five percent said they would conserve resources if they were rewarded.

Of the cities surveyed, Los Angeles got the top marks for building efficiency. Forty percent of respondents said their office buildings have sensors to adjust lighting and climate--compared with 27 percent on average across the U.S.--and it scored highest on the use of solar.

More than 40 percent of office workers in San Francisco and Seattle also rated their buildings as very environmentally friendly.

Clarification at 7:30 a.m. PDT: The cumulative elevator figure has been tweaked to include waiting time.