In terms of improving sustainability, you couldn’t find a much bigger target than the U.S. Air Force. Beyond being one of the planet’s biggest consumers of fossil fuels, the Air Force also manages more than 626 million square feet of real estate across 170 sites around the world -- and it’s under federal mandate to improve energy efficiency and reduce waste production and carbon emissions across that entire portfolio.

Enter IBM with what may be the biggest single infrastructure sustainability management software rollout ever. On Monday, IBM announced it was providing its smarter buildings software, built on the Tririga real estate management platform it bought last year, to the Air Force to roll out across its entire global portfolio of physical assets -- buildings, runways, vehicles, equipment, supplies and all.

The new IBM project with the Air Force Office of the Civil Engineer is about the broadest application one might imagine for a software platform aimed at discovering inefficiencies, suggesting solutions and measuring results across an entire enterprise. But while this undertaking is impressive in scope, it’s certainly not the only one going on.

Competitors in the sustainability and resource management software field include giants like SAP and CA and startups such as CSRWare, Planet Metrics or C3 and Hara (along with partner HP). Each is bringing its own take on how to measure and manage carbon, energy, water and waste coming from both direct operations and the second-tier effects of suppliers and business partners -- a mix of features that are being driven both by bottom-line cost issues and by government mandate.

IBM, for its part, has been applying its IT chops to sustainability at the enterprise scale for quite some time. On the energy efficiency side, it has been working with Honeywell, Johnson Controls and Schneider Electric on incorporating sensors and data analysis to their building management systems, for example. Buildings use about 40 percent of the energy consumed in the U.S., and may waste as much as a third of that, making efficiency a key target for cutting costs and meeting environmental goals alike.

But Tririga measures a lot more than energy. The company’s software was built to measure and compare commercial property metrics like utilization and productivity rates, transaction and management costs, water use and waste output, and a host of others on a per-square-foot basis. The idea is to give property portfolio managers tools to assess both how their buildings were performing today and how a list of potential investments in improving that performance might pay off over time, as measured by that long list of metrics.

Indeed, with a laundry list of potential projects as big as that the Air Force is looking at, one of IBM’s first steps will be to “start by addressing what’s strategically most important,” Dave Bartlett, vice president of IBM’s smarter buildings division, said in an interview. “That’s a great starting point, because you’ve got a better return on investment.”

That means pulling data from building management platforms, inventory and work-order tracking systems, supplier and contractor agreements and similar sources across the Air Force’s portfolio, and crunching all that data to tease out specific sites that are more wasteful than others, or certain processes that aren’t running as efficiently as they’re supposed to, he said.

While there’s plenty of data to work with, Bartlett said that adding more sensors and data-capture systems could improve on the IBM-Tririga platform’s ability to direct purchasing, maintenance and operations decisions “in a time frame we’ll call ‘near-real time,’” he said.

IBM has implemented Tririga’s technology at Tulane University and New York City’s Cloisters museum, as well as in IBM’s own facilities, but the Air Force represents a much broader scale of implementation for the platform. That could make this new project a test of IBM’s ability to carry out the same kind of efficiencies Bartlett said it has achieved in its own facilities, only on a global scale.

Applying sustainability and efficiency targets to military contractors and suppliers could be another big target, he added. “The military is challenged to reduce cost, but at the same time remain highly effective,” he said. “Whenever you can bring all the data together in a central spot, and connect it to all these related services, you’re going to get far more efficient.”

Whether that means the Air Force is going to be applying sustainability guidelines to its contractors, as Wal-Mart and other big corporate buyers are planning to do to their suppliers, remains to be seen. Bartlett didn’t have any specifics on how the Air Force intended to put IBM-Tririga’s capabilities to use with its private-sector partners.

Tags: air force, c3, carbon, efficiency, energy efficiency, green building, hara, ibm, obama administration, policy, sap, smart grid, supply chain, tririga, utilities