Moderated by Rick Badie
Last year, President Barack Obama announced the Better Buildings Challenge, with a goal to make commercial and industrial buildings 20 percent more energy efficient by 2020. Atlanta city leaders and business community embraced the challenge, and now the city is considered a showcase for energy-efficient strategies. Today, a guest writer explains the Atlanta Better Buildings initiative, while a professor questions the data that supports the green movement.
Atlanta is a leader in energy efficiency
By Lauren Dufort
The buildings in which we work and live have some hidden costs. Today, office and residential buildings use more than 40 percent of the total energy in the U.S. economy at an annual cost of over $400 billion and account for a large amount of water use. It takes nearly one gallon of water to generate the electricity needed to run the typical desktop computer for 6.5 hours. Multiply that figure across the thousands of computers citywide, and it’s evident the increasing cost of energy and water in our region impacts our bottom line.
Atlanta’s buildings are becoming a major contributor to the rising threat to our natural resources. To help curb these environmental strains, the U.S. Department of Energy in 2011 formed the Better Buildings Challenge.
In 2011, Atlanta ranked third in the nation for Energy Star-rated properties and highest in the nation for its proportion of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified buildings. The city launched the Atlanta Better Buildings Challenge (Atlanta BBC) the same year. The Atlanta BBC works to implement energy and water efficiency improvements in the city’s commercial buildings with the goal of reducing consumption by 20 percent before the year 2020.
Recent Atlanta BBC success stories include the retrofit of the Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center, which will save taxpayers an average of $200,000 per year in reduced utility costs. Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development arm, has earmarked $8 million in tax allocation funding to retrofit projects for eligible participants. The Atlanta City Council recently approved an innovative funding mechanism that allows for voluntary tax assessments to finance energy and water-related improvements.
Efficiency improvements do more than just conserve resources and reduce utility costs. They also spark economic development, from job creation to revitalization of an aging real estate market without reliance on new construction. Research shows that efficient properties can have higher occupancy levels and lease rates and potentially higher valuations. In fact, the Energy Department recently partnered with the Appraisal Foundation to explore ways to value efficiency improvements.
The Atlanta BBC is an innovative way for Atlanta to attract investors and gain national recognition. Central Atlanta Progress is proud to lead the charge locally, in partnership with the city of Atlanta, by convening public and private sector organizations around the initiative. Atlanta is a top contender in the BBC, with more than 48 million square feet of public and private building space already committed to the goal.
Georgia Power, AGL Resources, Southface, the Turner Foundation and Kendeda Fund, just to name a few, have contributed a tremendous amount of time and resources to the Atlanta Better Buildings Challenge. Additionally, the private sector has stepped up to ensure the program offers incentives such as free energy audits, product donations and training sessions.
There is an opportunity to participate in the Atlanta BBC whether you own, manage or work in a downtown or Midtown office building or if your company can provide a sustainable product or service. Visit www.atlantabbc.com.
Lauren Dufort is director of sustainability for Central Atlanta Progress.
More data needed to judge success of green buildings
By John H. Scofield
Buildings are responsible for about 40 percent of our nation’s primary energy consumption and greenhouse gas emission. Most buildings waste a large fraction of energy. Improving building energy efficiency represents one of the most cost-effective ways for reducing energy bills as well as our nation’s emissions.
Cost-effective upgrades in building lighting; heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment and attic insulation are routinely yielding owners 10- to 20-percent reductions in energy consumption. Governments and utilities have important roles to play in facilitating adoption of cost-effective measures to reduce energy consumption in our nation’s buildings.
There has been widespread publicity regarding green or high-performance buildings. Such buildings go beyond the standard, cost-effective upgrades in energy efficiency. Owners and designers make extraordinary claims regarding energy savings, often claiming to use half as much energy as conventional buildings. Zero-energy buildings are the latest rage.
Unfortunately, there are very little measured performance data to back up the claims for such green buildings. While some green buildings have demonstrated extraordinary success, more often the building’s reported energy savings are based on “design simulations,” which are not realized by the actual building. In most cases, energy performance data are never measured, let alone disclosed. Media outlets provide green publicity before the building is ever constructed. Having reaped these positive benefits, the building owner has nothing to gain – and much to lose – by measuring and disclosing actual energy performance.
The most popular green building certification system is the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. For years, it was assumed that a LEED-certified building used less energy than other buildings. This assumption has led many government agencies to mandate LEED certification for new buildings. A 2008 study funded by the USGBC concluded LEED-certified buildings used 25 to 30 percent less energy than other buildings. That study has since been discredited. My analysis showed that LEED buildings in that study used no less and no more primary energy than other buildings.
The shortage of building energy performance data is about to change, as some of the nation’s largest cities have mandated that building energy consumption be reported. New York City has made such data available to the public. My analysis of 2011 data for large NYC office buildings show that LEED and non-LEED offices use the same amount of primary energy and produce the same greenhouse gas emission. As more cities institute such energy benchmarking requirements, there will be overwhelming performance data available to judge the success of green (and non-green) buildings.
I like to compare building energy reduction efforts to weight-loss programs. Americans know how to lose weight: through better nutrition and exercise. It is a slow process. Green buildings are like the infomercial that promises amazing weight loss with little effort. I would like to see data for all the individuals that have tried these programs, not just the few selected individuals pictured on TV.
John H. Scofield is a physics professor at Oberlin College.
Energy efficiency saves money
By Maria Vargas
Atlanta has taken the Better Buildings Challenge. What does this mean?
It means that Mayor Kasim Reed and business leaders are making buildings more efficient with a goal of 20 percent savings or more. They are capturing real savings and putting people to work. They are sharing their approaches and successes so others can benefit.
Atlanta’s embrace of the challenge is paying dividends for the city, and it’s also a model for others across the country. Today, half of all the energy used in the United States is consumed by commercial buildings and manufacturing plants. It costs about $200 billion to power commercial buildings and another $130 billion to power our manufacturing facilities yearly. More than 20 percent of the energy used to power buildings is wasted through inefficient design, materials, equipment and operations.
We know we can significantly cut this waste by employing our fastest, cheapest and cleanest energy resource: energy efficiency. Reducing this waste will save more than $40 billion a year on energy bills and create good paying jobs.
However, challenges still stand in the way of realizing the benefits of energy efficiency. These challenges include maintaining a sustained commitment at the highest levels in companies and local government; making efficiency a core business strategy; creating incentives for tenant and employee behaviors to be in line with efficiency goals; improving the availability of accurate and unbiased energy use information, and promoting good efficiency role models.
Just over a year ago, President Barack Obama launched the Better Buildings Challenge, calling on leading chief executives, university presidents, governments and school districts to reduce their building portfolios’ energy use by 20 percent by 2020 and to share with others their successful strategies.
More than 110 organizations, representing more than 2 billion square feet of commercial buildings — retail stores, office buildings, hospitals, schools and hotels — have stepped forward to lead the way. They have committed to share with others their progress as well as their strategies and solutions to reach their energy-saving goals.
Cities in particular represent a growing market for energy efficiency. In the U.S., more than 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas. Local governments are critical leaders in the nation’s quest to unlock the enormous cost savings and economic opportunities associated with energy efficiency. State and local governments alone represent about 20 percent of the nation’s commercial building space.
Atlanta has created a community-wide program that serves as a national model. Atlanta effectively brought together businesses committed to energy efficiency improvements, and non-profit partners that offer incentives to downtown building owners that who accept the challenge.
While Atlanta initially committed to energy-efficiency improvements in 16 million square feet of buildings, there are now more than 60 organizations representing 48 million square feet partaking in this community-wide effort. The city’s Better Buildings Challenge is a national model for new ideas and best practices. Atlanta is demonstrating that energy efficiency offers a low-cost, high return resource for the economy — a powerful way to create jobs, help our environment and save money.
Maria Tikoff Vargas is director of the Better Buildings Challenge for the U.S. Department of Energy.