Isn’t it funny how there is always a new catch phrase to describe changes in a marketplace, in fads, in the “cool factor,” and so on? It wasn’t so long ago that oil embargos changed the way we built buildings and controlled indoor environments. From those days came terms not used before: indoor air quality, quality improvement process, sick building syndrome, and so on. Those led to changes in how the HVACR industry approached business — from a technical, management, and service standpoint.

Over the past several years, we’ve been writing and talking about building performance. Editorial Advisory Board member and columnist Dominick Guarino has been championing building performance for decades and in his Last Word column in this issue he talks about the need to turn performance compliance into new opportunities.

This applies not only in the residential arena, but the commercial one as well. It doesn’t matter if you’re a contractor, a facility engineer, or even a design/consulting engineer, it’s time to change your approach to buildings.

In March, I attended Carrier’s Global Engineering Conference (www.2012GEC.com) in Las Vegas and the theme of that meeting was about changing the world by rethinking, restoring, and regenerating our resources. Although the target audience was the engineering community, the messages delivered there were just as important to commercial contractors. As Geraud Darnis, president and CEO, UTC Climate, Controls & Security, and president of Carrier, said in his plenary keynote, the HVAC industry plays a pivotal role in the quality and productivity of the built environment as well as in people’s lives.

Darnis cited a very interesting fact in his speech. He told more than 900 facility and consulting engineers that the human impact on global climate is huge. For example, he said that by 2030, Saudi Arabia will actually consume more oil than it exports. Imagine that!

The idea here is that whether you think the environmental movement is a fad or not, it is changing the way society looks at the use of energy, the impact of buildings on our environment, and how we can work toward smarter use of both in an effort to replenish the earth’s resources.

Darnis added that to do this, our industry must learn to “leapfrog efficiency. Buildings will become ecosystems themselves that will no longer drain resources, but replenish them.”

This is much more than a U.S.-based phenomenon. It is global. John Mandyck, chief sustainability officer, UTC Climate, Controls, & Security, told the opening session audience that throughout the world today, more people live in cities than in the country and there is a growing migration of people, especially in China, to cities.

“This is a natural force, like the ocean’s tides,” he said. “It means there is a growing need for more buildings.”

Plus, 40% of all the energy used in the world today is in buildings and 40% of each building’s energy use is for the HVAC systems. In those terms, the opportunities are amazing. According to Mandyck, despite the economic recession, the green building market continues to grow. This growth has a documented value to building owners in terms of higher rent premiums (3%), better cash flow (1%), and an increased sales transaction premium (13%) compared to traditional values.

Is this pie in the sky stuff? I don’t think so. Many of the technologies exist right now that can help us design and build tomorrow’s eco-buildings today.

But new construction still is in the dumpster, you may say. Perhaps. Much of the technology can be retrofitted into existing buildings. It’s a matter of attitude and approach. The eco-building concepts begin with building performance and building performance involves the interactions between the structure itself and its most critical component: the mechanical system.

It really won’t be long before terms like biophilia, building performance, smart grid, and the like will be the words that changed the world. In fact, they already are. Isn’t it time you began to rethink your approach to commercial HVAC system design?