No one had to sell the 110 employees and executives at AWeber Communications on the benefits of managed lighting. The 15-year-old opt-in email marketing service, used by over 120,000 small businesses, bloggers and entrepreneurs, had already implemented automated functionality like daylight harvesting and variable lighting intensity at its Plymouth Meeting, PA headquarters, where they hoped it would enhance creativity and save on utility costs. They never really had a chance to assess those aspirations, though, because the systems never worked exactly as they had hoped they would. Fluorescent interior lights would remain on throughout the day even as the sun rose higher, and shade controls never seem to time their movements just right. It was frustrating, especially since the company’s other control systems, used to manage their A/V presentation and media displays, worked fine, reinforcing their belief in the usefulness of automation.
That kind of experience with automated control systems can be off-putting, but Sean Cohen, AWeber’s COO, says belief in the theoretical benefits of controlled lighting never wavered in the face of a less-than-wonderful initial experience. “We were always sold on that — we didn’t need anyone to explain those benefits to us or to read a brochure,” he says. “What we needed was to see that kind of system actually working correctly.”
Photo 1: Shades have been automatically lowered and lights brought on by the Lutron control system.
Photo 2: The control system has sensed abundant daylight and opens the shades and shuts off lights accordingly.
The company’s move in 2013 to the town of Chalfont, about 25 miles north of Philadelphia, offered an opportunity to take another shot at controlled lighting. As part of the facility renovation there, Wulff Architects proposed a Lutron lighting and controls retrofit, including automated shade controls. Their research included a stop at a Lutron sales facility in nearby Coopersburg where, says Cohen, they experienced a hands-on demonstration and felt they had found a reliable system.
A Fun Place
To fully understand why AWeber’s team members were so enamored of automation you have to understand the company’s culture. The terms “lively,” “forward-thinking,” “fun” and “free-form” are often used to describe the environment there, conditions that Cohen says help to attract and retain top-quality talent. Part of achieving that kind of atmosphere, he says, is not having to worry about details like lighting levels, thermostat settings and which buttons to use to set up the projector. A Crestron automation system, programmed with plenty of macros, handles the two latter chores while a new Lutron system provides digitally addressable fluorescent dimming ballasts, wireless occupancy and vacancy sensors, wireless daylight sensors, and a solar adaptive shading system whose operation is basically invisible to the team members who work in the building.
At the same time, the company also wanted to achieve sustainability and produce a positive ROI on the costs of the new lighting and control systems. The projections for the latter are a 32-percent reduction in total lighting energy costs, with nearly three-quarters of those savings directly attributable to the lighting controls strategies. Energy performance is measured using a combination of baselines constructed from the previous tenant’s utility bills as well as AWeber’s own energy-cost experiences, plus a highly granular metering infrastructure that allows them to monitor the energy output of the space down to the individual electrical outlet. These are then computed on a per-square-foot basis. Cohen says that final numbers aren’t in yet for their ROI calculations but the combination of automation systems, including lighting and daylight control, did constitute enough energy-saving points to achieve a LEED Gold-level certification. He says they expect to be able to compute accurate ROI numbers early in 2014.
Dedicated Systems Manager
AWeber had in place a corporate culture already attuned to seeking efficiencies through automation and control systems. However, aspiration often isn’t enough at the enterprise level. Part of their success is attributable to bringing on board a dedicated systems manager, Mike Flanagan, who was in place through the build-out phase, during which he oversaw the integration of control systems working with the architects and building engineers. He remains on as an employee, continuing to tweak and test the systems to maximize their effectiveness.
(That’s a cost, including salary and benefits, that will also be part of the overall ROI calculations, says Cohen. But he strongly emphasizes that less tangible metrics, such as employee satisfaction with their work environment, measureable through periodic polls and surveys, also be given significant weight.)
What they have achieved is a point where, by Cohen’s estimates, 90 percent of the systems in AWeber’s space, from lighting control to AV presentation equipment operation to thermostat control, are fully automated.
“That’s really the accomplishment here — you can focus on creativity and the tasks at hand without thinking about things like whether the light’s too bright or the office is too hot,” he says. “That’s a good place to be.”