Building Efficiency — Everyone Is In Favor, But How Do We Get There?

Yesterday, the Daily Environment Report noted the formation of the Coalition for Better Buildings, or C4BB, an alliance of environmental, business, and real estate interests intended to increase the incentives to make buildings more energy-efficient. Its members include real estate trade groups such as the Real Estate Roundtable and the Building Owners and Managers Association, as well as some heavyweight companies, such as Vornado. It also includes environmental groups such as the NRDC and companies who will look to profit from investments in building efficiency, such as Siemens and Johnson Controls.  

The C4BB’s mission is to:

  • Propose policy solutions from commercial and multi-family building stakeholders to foster greater energy efficiency in the structures we own, manage, finance and service.
  • Save businesses billions of dollars every year by reducing the energy used in commercial and multi-family buildings.
  • Create jobs through building efficiency retrofit projects that will put the construction, manufacturing, and service sectors back to work.  

All of this is good stuff and I am always encouraged when environmental and business groups succeed in finding common ground. One obvious intersection is support for tax incentives for building efficiency. Certainly such programs are going to have a greater likelihood of success with this kind of organized support. However, given the gaping hole in federal and state budgets, it will be difficult to enact new tax programs that provide sufficient incentives to make a difference.

The C4BB web page also notes that it supports “improving benchmarking tools including the expansion and enhancement of Energy Star.” This starts to get on to much shakier territory. One form of benchmarking could conceivably be use of building rating systems, which would push buildings towards energy efficiency by giving grades to buildings, with lesser buildings getting the proverbial scarlet “I” for “Inefficient.” As I noted in a post in August, the Institute for Market Transformation – which is a member of the C4BB – has put out a study on the state of building rating systems.

While the environmental groups and the energy efficiency companies may like building rating systems, owners of old buildings may not like them so well. It will be interesting to see whether the Real Estate Roundtable will support or oppose building rating systems. It is important to remember that much of the action in this area is at the state or local level. In states such as California and Massachusetts, rating systems may look better than mandatory efficiency targets. 

In any case, since buildings make up more than a third of energy use, and since some states still are pursuing hard targets for energy usage reductions, the issue of how to increase the energy efficiency of buildings is not going to go away.

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