The climate has changed for energy efficiency

The U.S. EPA has lead the charge on energy efficiency and the environment, and is encouraging engineers to take on the challenge.


Who would have predicted even five years ago that global warming would become a primary driver to make buildings more energy efficient?

Yes, leaders have stepped away from the pack to pursue strong energy management programs that help the environment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program has been on the forefront of linking profitability, energy efficiency, and the environment, and providing organizations with guidance on proven actions to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in buildings. But more of this leadership is needed across business and government.

Recently, fighting global warming is a call expressed by many Americans, from homeowners to school principals to business executives. Today, we see a different climate. And the focus goes beyond vehicles. Commercial buildings are recognized as a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions and a significant source of cost-effective reductions. Now more than ever, it is important to find and eliminate energy waste in buildings.

The energy used by commercial and industrial buildings in the United States is responsible for 45% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. To draw attention to this opportunity, the EPA launched the Energy Star Challenge, a national call to action to improve the energy efficiency of America’s buildings by 10% or more. EPA estimates that a 10% improvement would save about $20 billion and reduce greenhouse gases equal to the emissions from 30 million vehicles.

Consulting engineers can participate in the Energy Star Challenge and play a big role in reducing energy use in building 10% or more.

How? First, be aware that interest in climate change is creating new business opportunities and new clients. Climate initiatives backed by governments, academia, nonprofits, and industry groups are setting aggressive goals and providing incentives and programs to capture greenhouse gas emissions from buildings. Many of these groups are teaming together to make their individual efforts go further. Partnerships are reaching groups that haven’t made energy efficiency a priority in the past. And Energy Star is being used more frequently to link programs together.

Local governments are playing a big role in fueling the demand for energy efficiency. U.S. Conference of Mayor’s (USCM) Climate Protection agreement . At the 2007 USCM June conference, mayors unanimously endorsed the EPA’s Energy Star Challenge as a key strategy to help in meeting the goals under their Climate Protection Agreement. The mayors agreed to pursue a two-part strategy of using Energy Star to help improve the energy efficiency of their own facilities and to spread energy efficiency throughout their community to both businesses and homeowners.

Industry associations are bringing leadership and resources to their members. For example, the Building Owners and Manager’s Association (BOMA) announced their Market Transformation Energy Plan in July. This plan asks members to adopt a seven-point challenge to decrease energy consumption by 30 percent across portfolios by 2012.

Members of BOMA, representing 9 billion square feet of the nation’s 12 billion square feet of office space, have access to the BOMA Building Energy Efficiency Program (BEEP), a program that uses Energy Star and other resources to help building owners and managers uncover low-cost, proven options for reducing energy use. Already more than 5,000 professionals have accessed BEEP to find valuable strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, save energy and improve the bottom line.

The real power is when initiatives come together in a community to reduce the power needed to run buildings. An excellent example is in the Seattle area. BOMA Seattle-King County, in partnership with the local utilities and the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, recently launched a competition: the Kilowatt Crackdown.

The Kilowatt Crackdown challenges BOMA Seattle-King County members to assess their building’s energy performance, calculate their Energy Star rating, and improve that score within one year. Through competition and prizes, like a private suite at a Seattle Mariners baseball game, this initiative aims to identify the most energy efficient buildings in the market as well as the properties making the greatest gains in performance. Not only is this competition fun, but it helps advance the goal of climate protection in Seattle, where the mayor has established aggressive greenhouse gas reduction goals. Consulting engineers in Seattle, and elsewhere, can help building owners compete, and in the process, save energy.

What is a good first step? Why not start with something easy--like estimating the carbon footprint of your client’s buildings. While that may seem like a daunting exercise, the EPA has just made this task easier. EPA's free online energy rating system for commercial buildings, Portfolio Manager , has been updated to include greenhouse gas emission factors, enabling users to estimate the carbon footprint of their commercial buildings. The updated rating system shows that Energy Star buildings not only use 35% less energy than their typical counterparts but also contribute 35% less carbon dioxide emissions.

For examples of the U.S. EPA’s public service announcement, click here .

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