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Building Smart for Sustainability

From ON Magazine, Issue No. 1, 2010

By Beth Schultz

Smart building
Panduit President Tom Donovan and CIO Joanne Tyree (left) pause in the airy lobby of the company’s headquarters, designed to give everyone exposure to sunlight and to the outside environment. Photograph by Chris Lake
Panduit creates a showcase for intelligent building systems


May 20, 2010—Call it a tribute to its Midwestern roots, but Panduit Corp. has long thrived on a straightforward efficiency that has had it embracing environmental-friendly practices since opening its doors in 1955.

“We’ve always been a practical company, relying on functional concepts,” says President Tom Donovan.

In fact, he says, sustainability, a corporate goal many companies have only recently tuned into, has been a guiding force at Panduit since before he landed on the company’s doorstep 29 years ago. “Driving sustainability has been a core value since the company was founded, with a focus not just on lean manufacturing but on lean everything and on driving out waste in all forms,” he says.

A smart, new building

But Panduit took sustainability to new heights—five stories, to be exact—in its new world headquarters building officially opening this spring on its Tinley Park, Illinois, corporate campus, 35 miles south of downtown Chicago. The building, which anticipates earning Gold-level certification from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, is a gleaming showcase of what the modern, sustainable business is all about.

Before even entering the building, for example, a visitor might notice that the exterior windows don’t look into offices. Rather, all offices run down the building’s center spine, leaving unobstructed views to the outside. “We’ve got a beautiful campus, with views of trees and a creek. But when I close my office door in the old headquarters, nobody on the other side can see outside,” Donovan says.

The new building, on the other hand, features a rectangular footprint with the distance from the windows to the center spine calculated based on the angle of the sun and how far daylight can penetrate into the building. “We wanted to give everyone exposure to sunlight and to the outside environment,” Donovan explains. “I’m looking out glass walls to the outside windows, and so is everyone else.”

While the open, airy design maximizes the use of natural light and makes for a readily visible sign of greenness, the real sustainability story is taking place in the background. “In today’s world, in order to be green and sustainable over the long term, the building has to be intelligent—and I would argue,” Donovan says, “that this is one of the world’s most intelligent buildings.”

What, you might ask, makes a building so brainy?

It’s one whose policy-based building systems are so intertwined and automated that when an employee comes to work on a Saturday afternoon, a swipe of his security badge triggers the heating and lighting in his office area to power up. Or, for example, it’s one that, upon receiving an external camera feed of a man running toward the building from the parking lot, engages locks on entry points and alerts security personnel to a potential problem. It’s a building that, should energy usage peak in certain areas, systems will have the ability to take action based on predetermined rules.

“It’s about intimacy of control,” says James Brew, a principal architect with Rocky Mountain Institute, an independent “think-and-do-tank” on efficient and restorative resource use. And that intimacy isn’t just tied to people, he adds.

“It’s about knowing where and when your building is using energy and then synchronizing that energy use not only with occupants but also with climate. So as climate changes, building systems will be able to anticipate the loads needed based on fuzzy logic and learning from the day before or previous weather conditions and understand what it needs to do to respond,” Brew says.

As a leading adopter of intelligent building systems, Panduit is still learning how all of this integration and automation will play out in its new headquarters. “Whether these sorts of things will happen in real time is yet to be determined. We’re just starting to understand the power of having all these systems able to talk to each other,” says Joanne Tyree, Panduit CIO. “What we’re doing, we’ve come to find, is unique.”

"We’re just starting to understand the power of having all these systems able to talk to each other.” —Joanne Tyree, Panduit CIO.

Jack Heine, a research vice president at Gartner, Inc., agrees that Panduit’s intelligent building and sustainability program is innovative—and says it’s one other companies would do well to emulate. Particularly impressive, he says, is the degree to which this was a collaborative corporate effort involving not only facilities but also IT and other groups to study many different operational aspects of a building.

“There’s a changing paradigm in the workforce, and buildings require greater flexibility,” Heine says. “Panduit has given all of this a lot of consideration, and that’s important.”

Donovan puts it this way: “We didn’t just need more space, we needed better space.”

This space, he adds, would help drive an increase in collaboration—a critical cultural goal—improve operational efficiencies, and incorporate sustainability elements not possible in the company’s old, 1960s-era headquarters building. “The new space gives us the opportunity to bring all this to bear in one project,” he says.

Intelligent convergence

The world headquarters building is a realization of Panduit’s own Unified Physical Infrastructure (UPI) approach for converging core systems and facility functions, says Vineeth Ram, Panduit’s vice president of global strategic marketing. “Integrating communications, computing, control, power, and security systems on a unified network, manageable from a unified operations center, optimizes a building’s physical infrastructure and, ultimately, leads to energy and other operational efficiencies,” Ram says. “The converged, IP infrastructure comprises state-of-the-art technology from myriad world-class providers, including EMC, coupled with enterprise management applications and supported by Panduit’s UPI-based solutions.”

A state-of-the-art data center, also located in the new building, supports the automated intelligent building systems, Tyree says. “Our strategy is to consolidate, standardize, and simplify, so we’ve taken those principles to build a data center with an eye on high availability, sustainability, and energy efficiency and apply those same things to this new set of business applications—meaning, the intelligent building—we now support,” she explains.

Within the new data center, Panduit’s server infrastructure will be 60 percent virtualized, compared to 10 percent previously. “Clearly with increased use of virtual servers, our energy and space usage go down dramatically,” Tyree says.

In addition, Panduit is modernizing the platforms on which it runs its Oracle enterprise management applications and, on the storage side, it’s consolidating from a variety of disk storage devices onto a unified storage platform from EMC that will save the company an estimated $250,000 annually in operating costs, Tyree says. The network comprises Cisco’s latest Nexus switching technology plus Panduit’s own copper and fiber optic high-speed data transport networking solution, smart cabinets, and accessories.

“All of these things will allow us to run much denser and more energy efficient,” says Tyree, noting that the new data center will open with a Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) rating of no worse than 1.7 and possibly 1.5, down from the existing data center’s 2.1 rating. Developed by The Green Grid, an industry consortium, the PUE is a commonly used metric for measuring the amount of data center power consumed by IT gear.

“We want our data center to be a showcase, a working model of our solutions for our customers, so we collaborated closely with our facilities team to make sure we were using our solutions and our partners to our best possible advantage,” Tyree says. “But at the same time,” she adds, “one of my goals is bringing down the cost of running IT so we can free up money to do innovative things. In a lot of ways, the new building and data center will help me do that.”

Indeed, Donovan says. And as much as Panduit aimed to create a highly intelligent, sustainable building, it did not do so in the absence of a rigorous business case. “We don’t do anything without a strong return on investment,” he stresses. “The sustainable elements of the building had a three-year or better straight, hard payback. Plus, they provide huge soft benefits, like improved employee productivity.”

Sustainability doesn’t come easy. It takes innovative leadership, a comprehensive operational view, and a smart business case. But, as Panduit shows, with thoughtful processes and a long-term commitment it can be done well, to great business benefit.

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