American buildings use 40 percent of our nation's energy and contribute about 40 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions. The prospect of cutting those numbers significantly through better training and certification of building energy professionals is what makes last week's announcement about the creation of Better Buildings Workforce Guidelines such an important one. This industry advancement comes to us thanks to the joint efforts of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), non-profit National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), and a group of energy and building industry professionals who comprised the Commercial Workforce Credentialing Council. The workforce guidelines were designed to simultaneously strengthen and streamline commercial building workforce training and certification programs for workers in the fields of energy auditing, building commissioning, building operations, and energy management. The guidelines are part of the federal government's broader Better Buildings Initiative to improve the way buildings use energy, while creating jobs and strengthening the economy.
By creating nationally recognized standards for competency-based certification programs, these guidelines can ensure that workers have the skills they need to do their jobs effectively, while helping cut the pollution and energy costs that come from the country's commercial building sector. The guidelines will serve an important role in "training the next generation of skilled clean-energy workers," says NIBS President Henry L. Green. They, after all, will "be responsible for leading the charge in optimizing commercial building performance."
As building owners, operators, and policymakers begin focusing more attention on the energy efficiency of buildings --what's often called "building performance"-- and want to tap into the value that can come with improved building operations, they've learned that some workforce credentials haven't always ensured building energy workers and professionals have the levels of knowledge and technical skill that enable them to do their jobs effectively. In response, the DOE and NIBS worked with industry experts to develop these voluntary guidelines. They offer credentialing bodies a framework that will help their certification programs meet the needs and standards identified by the experts in the industry.
The Commercial Workforce Credentialing Council, which advised on the development of the guidelines and will oversee them to ensure they stay up-to-date, includes building owners and operators, industry trade associations, government agencies, credentialing bodies, service providers, and energy efficiency advocates. I participated on the Council as a representative of the City Energy Project to provide perspective on how municipal governments might use the guidelines to help strengthen the local workforce and cut energy use in the cities' building sector.
Having nationally-recognized certification options offers building professionals and the companies and agencies that hire them much-needed guarantees that certification programs are high quality and meet the technical standards the industry expects. This type of quality assurance is especially important in jurisdictions that require energy audits or retro-commissioning of buildings, such as San Francisco, Boston, and New York. (Energy audits are evaluations of buildings that provide owners with actionable recommendations for improvements and upgrades, and retro-commissioning is a process that ensures building systems like lighting and ventilation operate as efficiently and effectively as they were designed to.) Standardizing the market demand for certifications also provides building energy and operations professionals with assurance that the credentials they earn meet industry expectations, are relevant, and are recognized across the country.
By investing in our buildings and in the workforce that carries out energy improvements, we can deliver huge carbon savings along with equally impressive economic benefits. The nationally-recognized, high quality standards set forth in the Better Buildings Workforce Guidelines will help us do just that.