EPIBuilding a Sustainable Future
Lester R. Brown

Chapter 11. Raising Energy Efficiency: More-Efficient Buildings

The building sector is responsible for a large share of world electricity consumption, raw materials use, and waste generation. In the United States, buildings—commercial and residential—account for 70 percent of electricity use and over 38 percent of CO2 emissions. Worldwide, building construction accounts for 40 percent of materials use. 30

Because buildings last for 50–100 years or longer, it is often assumed that increasing energy efficiency in the building sector is a long-term process. But that is not the case. An energy retrofit of an older inefficient building can cut energy use by 20–50 percent. The next step, shifting entirely to carbon-free electricity, either generated onsite or purchased, to heat, cool, and light the building completes the job. Presto! A zero-carbon building. 31

The building construction and real estate industries are recognizing the value of green buildings. An Australian firm, Davis Langdon, notes there is a growing sense of “the looming obsolescence of non-green buildings,” one that is driving a wave of reform in both construction and real estate. Further, Davis Langdon says, “going green is future-proofing your asset.” 32

In the United States, the private U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)—well known for its certification and rating program called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)—heads the field. This voluntary certification program sets standards so high that it has eclipsed the U.S. government Energy Star certification program for buildings. LEED has four certification levels—Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. A LEED-certified building must meet minimal standards in environmental quality, materials use, energy efficiency, and water efficiency. LEED-certified buildings are attractive to buyers because they have lower operating costs, higher lease rates, and happier, healthier occupants than traditional buildings do. 33

The LEED certification standards for construction of new buildings were issued in 2000. Any builder who wants a building certified must request certification and pay for it. In 2004 the USGBC also began certifying the interiors of commercial buildings and tenant improvements of existing buildings. It was planning to begin issuing certification standards for home builders by the end of 2007. 34

Looking at the LEED certification criteria and examples of LEED buildings provides an insight into the many ways buildings can become more energy-efficient. The certification process for new buildings begins with site selection, then moves on to energy efficiency, water efficiency, materials used, and indoor environmental quality. In site selection, certification points are awarded for locating the building close to public transport, such as light rail or buses. Beyond this, a higher certification depends on provision of bicycle racks and shower facilities for employees. To be certified, new buildings must maximize the exposure to daylight, with minimum daylight illumination for 75 percent of the occupied space. 35

With energy, exceeding the high level of efficiency required for basic certification earns additional points. Further points are awarded for the use of renewable energy, including rooftop solar cells to generate electricity, rooftop solar water and space heaters, and the purchase of green power. 36

Both membership in the USGBC and the number of building proposals being submitted for certification are growing fast. As of August 2007 the Council had 10,688 member organizations, including corporations, government agencies, environmental groups, and other nonprofits. Membership has grown 10-fold since 2000. 37

Thus far LEED has certified 748 new buildings in the United States, with some 5,200 under construction that have applied for certification. Commercial building space that has been certified or registered for certification approval totals 2 billion square feet of floor space, or some 46,000 acres (think 46,000 football fields). 38

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s office building for its 100 staff members near Annapolis, Maryland, was the first to earn a LEED platinum rating. Among its features are a ground source heat pump for heating and cooling, a rooftop solar heater for hot water, and sleekly designed composting toilets that produce a rich humus used to fertilize the landscape surrounding the building. Toyota’s North American office in Torrance, California, which houses 2,000 employees, was one of the first large office buildings to earn a LEED gold rating. It is distinguished by a large solar-electric generating facility that provides much of its electricity. The combination of waterless urinals and rainwater recycling enable it to operate with 94 percent less water than a conventionally designed building of the same size. Less water means less energy. 39

The 54-story Bank of America tower in New York, scheduled to open in early 2008, will be the first large building to earn a platinum rating. It will have its own co-generation power plant and will collect rainwater, reuse waste water, and use recycled materials in construction. The complex of new buildings at the World Trade Center site is being designed to achieve gold certification. 40

A 60-story office building with a gold rating being built in Chicago will use river water to cool the building in summer, and the rooftop will be covered with plants to reduce runoff and heat loss. Energy-conserving measures will save the owner $800,000 a year in energy bills. The principal tenant, Kirkland and Ellis LLP, a Chicago-based law firm, insisted that the building be gold-certified and that this be incorporated into the lease. 41

The state of California commissioned Capital E, a green building consulting firm, to analyze the economics of 33 LEED-certified buildings in the state. The study concluded that certification raised construction costs by $4 per square foot, but because operating costs as well as employee absenteeism and turnover were lower and productivity was higher than in non-certified buildings, the standard- and silver-certified buildings earned a profit over the first 20 years of $49 per square foot, and the gold- and platinum-certified buildings earned $67 per square foot. 42

In 2001 a global version of the USGBC, the World Green Building Council, was formed. It initially consisted of Green Building Councils from six other countries. All told, as of August 2007 there were LEED certification projects in progress in some 41 countries, including Brazil, Canada, India, and Mexico. 43

Also at the international level, the Clinton Foundation announced in May 2007 its Energy Efficiency Building Retrofit Program, a project of the Clinton Climate Initiative. This program, in cooperation with C40, a large-cities climate leadership group, brings together five of the world’s largest banks and four of the leading energy service companies to work with an initial group of 16 cities to retrofit buildings, reducing their energy use by 20–50 percent. Among these cities are some of the world’s largest, including Bangkok, Berlin, Karachi, London, Mexico City, Mumbai, New York, Rome, and Tokyo. Each of the banks—ABN AMRO, Citi, Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan Chase, and UBS—is committed to investing up to $1 billion in this effort, enough to easily double the current worldwide level of energy saving retrofits. 44

The world’s four largest energy service companies—Honeywell, Johnson Controls, Siemens, and Trane—will do the actual retrofitting. And, most important, they agreed to provide “performance guarantees,” thus ensuring that all the retrofits will be profitable. Cutting energy use and carbon emissions can be highly profitable. At the launch of this program, former President Bill Clinton pointed out that banks and energy service companies would make money, building owners would save money, and carbon emissions would fall. 45

On the architectural front, a climate-conscious architect from New Mexico, Edward Mazria, has launched the 2030 Challenge. Its principal goal is for the nation’s architects to be designing buildings in 2030 that use no fossil fuels. Mazria observes that the buildings sector is the leading source of climate emissions, easily eclipsing transportation. Therefore, he says, “it’s the architects who hold the key to turning down the global thermostat.” To reach his goal, Mazria has organized a coalition consisting of several organizations, including the American Institute of Architects, the USGBC, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors. 46

Mazria recognizes the need for faculty retraining in the country’s 124 architectural schools to “transform architecture from its mindless and passive reliance on fossil fuels to an architecture intimately linked to the natural world in which we live.” It is the responsibility of architects, Mazria believes, “to engage the environment in a way that significantly reduces or eliminates the need for fossil fuels.” Today’s architectural concepts and construction technologies enable architects to easily design new buildings with half the energy requirements of today’s buildings. Among the design technologies are natural day-lighting, rooftop solar-electric cells, natural ventilation, glazed windows, reduced water use, more-efficient lighting technologies, and motion sensors for lighting. 47

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30. U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), “Buildings and Climate Change,” fact sheet (Washington, DC: 2007); USGBC, “Green Building Facts,” fact sheet (Washington, DC: August 2007).

31. Building lifetime from Edward Mazria, “It’s the Architecture, Stupid! Who Really Holds the Key to the Global Thermostat? The Answer Might Surprise You,” World and I, May/June 2003; retrofit energy savings from Clinton Foundation, “Energy Efficiency Building Retrofit Program,” fact sheet (New York: May 2007).

32. Davis Langdon, The Cost & Benefit of Achieving Green Buildings (Sydney: 2007).

33. USGBC, “About LEED,” fact sheet (Washington, DC: 2007).

34. USGBC, “Green Building Facts,” op. cit. note 30; USGBC, “LEED for New Construction” (Washington, DC: 2007).

35. USGBC, Green Building Rating System for New Construction and Major Renovations, Version 2.2 (Washington, DC: October 2005).

36. Ibid.

37. USGBC, “Green Building Facts,” op. cit. note 30.

38. Ibid.

39. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, “The Philip Merrill Environmental Center—Highlighting High Performance” (Golden, CO: April 2002); “ Toyota Seeks Gold for New Green Buildings,” GreenBiz.com, 23 April 2003; “The Green Stamp of Approval,” Business Week, 11 September 2006.

40. Nick Carey and Ilaina Jonas, “Feature—Green Buildings Need More Incentives in US,” Reuters, 15 February 2007; Taryn Holowka, “ World Trade Center Going for LEED Gold,” USGBC News, 12 September 2006.

41. Carey and Jonas, op. cit. note 40.

42. Barnaby J. Feder, “Environmentally Conscious Development,” New York Times, 25 August 2004.

43. Information on World Green Building Council at www.worldgbc.org; USGBC, op. cit. note 33.

44. Ibid.; “ Clinton Unveils $5 Billion Green Makeover for Cities,” Environment News Service, 16 May 2007.

45. “Clinton Unveils $5 Billion Green Makeover for Cities,” op. cit. note 44.

46. Mazria, op. cit. note 31; information on the 2030 Challenge at www.architecture2030.org.

47. Mazria, op. cit. note 31.


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