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Harnessing power generated by the sun reduces your reliance on fossil fuels, but it can come with a price tag. How to decide if it’s worth it to you.

Experts & Resources

Andhra Pradesh Gearing Up for Energy-Efficient Growth
Nehmat Kaur

Last week in Andhra Pradesh, I had the opportunity to visit Vijayawada, the state capital gearing up for greater energy-efficient urbanization. With support from NRDC and ASCI, Andhra Pradesh was one of the first states to adopt the Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC) in 2014. The state is now making preparations to demonstrate what may be an effective compliance model that could be applied to other states in India.

Vijayawada and other Indian cities are rapidly urbanizing, presenting an opportunity to save energy by constructing energy-efficient buildings

Nehmat Kaur

Under the leadership of its energy as well as municipal administration and urban development departments, the state of Andhra Pradesh is addressing the core aspects required for ECBC compliance.

One, the state is working with key urban local bodies to incorporate ECBC requirements into all necessary systems of the building approval process. Similar to the processes undertaken in Telangana, authorities of the new Andhra Pradesh capital Amaravati, are working with ASCI and NRDC to revise building approval forms to include the ECBC. In addition to the above, Amaravati, is also in the process of developing an online ECBC compliance and building approval system to make compliance convenient for developers in the region, as I highlight here.

Mainstreaming the ECBC into the building approval forms ensures that architects and real-estate developers are able to seamlessly comply with the requirements of the code, similar to safety and environmental impact codes. The state authorities are also working to add necessary ECBC checks in the building approval checklists, making it easier for town planners and those approving the building plans, to ensure code compliance.

Two, Andhra Pradesh worked with ASCI to build capacity of urban local bodies, architects, real-estate developers and other key stakeholders in the state. Last week Andhra Pradesh’s Principal Secretary for Energy Ajay Jain called the State Energy Conservation Mission (SECM), the department responsible for compliance and NRDC and ASCI to discuss ways in which to accelerate code compliance in the state.

As an outcome of the discussion, Andhra Pradesh decided to act on the following key priorities:

  • Reviving the state’s ECBC technical committee and holding quarterly meetings to check-in on progress as a way to maintain close coordination with urban local bodies to comply with the code. It was discussed that the technical committee meetings also serve as a feedback mechanism to help improve processes as compliance in the state increases.
  • Undertaking an awareness drive on the ECBC to help raise awareness in private stakeholders, both supplying buildings, such as real-estate developers as well as customers that are expected to use the buildings, such as multinational corporations that are potential tenants. The Energy Secretary also highlighted that electricity distribution companies are key players that could be instrumental in code compliance.
  • Briefing the state’s leadership including the Chief Minister and the Chief Secretary on the status of the ECBC as a way to highlight the state’s leadership in India’s overall goal to reduce its emissions intensity.

Implementation of the code in Andhra Pradesh is well underway. Responsibility for enforcement of building codes falls on local government bodies and key private sector stakeholders in the buildings sector. With the necessary technical knowledge, procedures, and controls in place to make the potential energy efficiency gains a reality, we look forward to further progress in Andhra Pradesh and in other states toward a sustainable energy future for India.

This blog has been co-authored with Rajkiran Bilolikar, Administrative Staff College of India, Hyderabad

The Real-Life Stories Behind the Federal Budget Numbers
Deron Lovaas

Guest blog by Brianna Johnson-King, NRDC Stanback intern

Policymakers in Washington can get caught up in technicalities and number-crunching and lose sight of individuals whom their policies are affecting. This underscores the importance of stories to add meaning and depth to figures in spreadsheets.

In mid-August I traveled to my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, to collect stories from residents, contractors, and property managers who have benefited from or administered federal programs. These programs include the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) and project-based multifamily rental assistance programs. 

Latice is a mother of three, including fraternal twins soon to be 20 years old and a two-year-old son. Her 12-year-old son recently passed away.


Photo by Brianna Johnson-King

Latice wants to provide everything to her children, but as a single mother this has been challenging. Her salary from working at Popeye’s made it a struggle to pay for rent, utility bills, food, clothing, and books for her children. As a result, Latice and her family slipped into homelessness. Over two years ago, she applied to Community Properties of Ohio (CPO) housing, which helps residents with the cost of rent through federal and state rental assistance programs. Latice and her family were accepted and soon moved into an apartment she could call home. 

Most importantly, through CPO and funding from HUD and LIHEAP, Latice learned how to plan her finances. Living on a budget allows her to have a set payment each month.

“Being on the budget with your rent, your gas, your electric, it’s like a stress reliever…on top of being a single parent…because you need these things to take care of your children,” she told me.

When given the chance by CPO housing, Latice has worked hard these past two years to pay her rent and utilities on time every month. Shenow receives “loyal customer” letters in the mail.    

One day Latice hopes she can afford her $200-$300 utility bill, but she isn’t there yet. Although she doesn’t want to rely on these programs for the long term, she needs them to survive and raise her children now. 

Housing and energy assistance help individuals in many situations and stations in life, including senior citizens and working families struggling to make ends meet. 

“If I didn’t have this place, I wouldn’t have any place to live. I would be out on the streets,” Latice said.

Elizabeth moved into the Ravine at Central College five and a half years ago. Rent costs are lower than market prices thanks to Low-Income Housing Tax Credits. As Elizabeth explained to us, “I just could never afford anything else…It has really helped me a lot.” The lowered rent cost allows her to afford a one-bedroom apartment, when she otherwise wouldn’t have a place to live.

Elizabeth (on left)

Photo by Brianna Johnson-King

Cuts to the federal budget may seem abstract, but these Ohio residents make it clear just how much is at stake. These two stories alone are representative of what many others throughout the United States face. Increased housing and energy costs can force people to choose between safe housing, utilities, medicine and food, limiting their ability to become self-sufficient and improve their financial situations.

As Latice said, “That’s what I just thought America was all about: freedom and helping one another.”

For many Americans, their time of need is now and they deserve a place to live with adequate heating, cooling, electricity and lighting. It’s time to lift up their stories to ensure they will not be left out in the cold.   

NRDC in Action
Trading Coal Plants for Solar Farms in India
Senior attorney and India program director Anjali Jaiswal leads a small team that’s accomplishing big things in one of the world’s most polluted countries.

Indian workers install solar panels at the Gujarat Solar Park.

Ajit Solanki/AP

When President Trump announced his intention to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement, he singled India out, claiming (falsely) that, under the accord, the country of 1.3 billion could “double its coal production by 2020” while “we’re supposed to get rid of ours.” But the reality is that India has made a bold commitment to move away from such dirty fuels and toward a clean energy future, making huge strides in the global fight against climate change. Since 2009, NRDC has been working with partners there to encourage that transition as part of its India program, spearheaded by senior attorney Anjali Jaiswal.

Jaiswal, who was born in India and moved with her family to the United States when she was a child, joined NRDC in 2001. After six years in the Water program and a stint on the Litigation team, she was selected by NRDC founding president John Adams and immediate past president Frances Beinecke to lead the organization’s efforts in India. Though based in San Francisco, Jaiswal was thrilled by the opportunity to also work in her native country again, having studied environmental science there in the 1990s and, more recently, worked with local nonprofits in New Delhi through a Fulbright program. She looked forward to applying her India experience, both personal and professional, as well as her background working on local environmental issues in California, to her new role.

© Rebecca Greenfield

“Anjali’s vision, which has proved to be very, very effective, was to work with people and institutions on the ground in India who are known and respected,” Beinecke says. “That’s been the model since we started, and it’s really worked well.”

Jaiswal points out that India ranks as the third-largest annual emitter of greenhouse gases, behind the United States and China, but in terms of per capita emissions, it lands far down the list at 128th. The United States, by comparison, is 12th, and the average American uses 10 times as much energy as an average Indian, Jaiswal notes. “What India is trying to do is really hard,” she says. “It’s building out an economy, increasing prosperity, and bringing millions of people out of poverty while fighting climate change.”

Problems in the country loom large—200 million Indians don’t have reliable electricity, and the devastating effects of climate change are already wreaking havoc across the country. The key, Jaiswal says, has been to focus on building relationships and creating realistic, human-centered, scalable solutions.

Solar panels have made a big difference in Tinginaput, India.

© Abbie Trayler-Smith/Panos Pictures/Dept. for International Development

“We’re a small, lean team, but our impact is much greater than our size,” Jaiswal says. In the eight years since NRDC’s India Initiative was founded, the team of seven (along with other NRDC experts) has worked with partners to launch several projects that address the country’s public health, energy, and climate challenges. One focus is to strengthen climate resilience among some of India’s most vulnerable populations, such as slum communities, outdoor workers, pregnant women, and children.

For example, the team has devised a revolutionary—and increasingly popular—heat-preparedness plan and early-warning system for heat waves. “It's a great example of how we’ve been able to take the work to scale,” Beinecke says. “It started in Ahmedabad, but now there are 11 states and 30 cities in India that have adopted the same model.” Beinecke adds that the project’s success is due in large part to Jaiswal’s knack for developing strong partnerships with NGOs in India.

Jaiswal has also worked with local partners on an innovative finance model to help nearly 43,000 saltpan farmers in the remote, scorching desert of Gujarat (also home to her father’s village) gain access to clean energy and improved living conditions. One local group, the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), founded by the inspirational Ela Bhatt in 1972, has been instrumental in helping the farmers replace expensive diesel-powered pumps and generators with solar panels, allowing the farmers to save money while helping to bring about a more sustainable future. In the two years since the project began, Jaiswal has seen nearly 500 solar installations crop up across the salt flats.

Saltpan farmer in the Gujarat Desert

© Bhaskar Deol

On a trip to Gujarat earlier this year, Jaiswal and Beinecke sat with a family in their tent while the mother explained how the project is enabling them to send their young children to school for the first time. “You felt, wow, you’re really having an impact on the lives of people who live in very meager circumstances to improve their standard of living and their quality of life,” Beinecke says. “That these three or four children sitting with us were going to be able to have a different future was very inspiring. It was fantastic.”

The India Initiative has also helped introduce energy efficiency standards for buildings that will set a strong precedent for new construction in rapidly developing cities: As of 2014, only 30 percent of the buildings projected to exist in India by 2030 had been built. It’s an exciting thought for Jaiswal and Indians alike, who are eager to see the country develop with climate solutions in mind. “It has changed so rapidly, and people are really seeing how things can get better in India,” Jaiswal says. “India is a technology-loving country, with a lot of people helping to develop solutions we use every day, and these climate solutions can make life better and grow the economy.”

Jaiswal was impressed with India’s commitment to renewable energy development before the Paris Agreement, and she remains so now. “When we started in India, the country was producing 17 megawatts of solar energy—that’s very little,” she says. “We’re talking gigawatts in terms of amounts now.” One gigawatt of energy can power 544,000 Indian homes a year. Over the past three years, India quadrupled its solar capacity to 12 gigawatts, and it will add another 10 in 2017. The country is also ramping up wind energy production as part of its goal of installing 160 gigawatts of solar and wind power by 2022.

India’s ambitious commitment to renewable energy will be central to helping the country reach its Paris climate accord goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 33 percent to 35 percent of 2005 levels by 2030. But India’s formal commitment wasn’t necessarily a sure thing during negotiations back in late 2015. The country took the lead in fighting for an equitable agreement for developing countries—not because, as Trump thinks, it wants to increase its coal production, but to make it work for its population’s immense needs.

“Paris showed us that we can develop an international structure that works for countries around the world—not just rich countries,” Jaiswal says. “In order for it to work, it has to be designed for everyone.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called failure to respond to climate change “an immoral and criminal act.” Accordingly, “we’re seeing India really stepping up,” Jaiswal says. “India is investing in clean energy technologies and innovation while folks like Donald Trump are investing in our grandfathers’ technologies.”

Jaiswal and the India team are determined, now more than ever, to foster India’s newfound leadership role on climate, and she stresses just how motivating the idea of reducing poverty and promoting economic prosperity is for the country. “While there are many challenges, development is skyrocketing in Asia. Innovation and the spirit of wanting to build a brighter future are very much part of the culture that exists in India right now.”

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Toward Energy Independence: A Tale of Two Efficient Cities
Nehmat Kaur

As India marks seven decades of independence this month, some states and key cities are implementing energy efficiency building codes to achieve greater energy independence. Energy efficiency is the cheapest way to save energy and money, resulting in greater energy security in the face of rapid urbanization and skyrocketing energy demands.  

India’s Power Ministry highlights that Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC) implementation, minimum energy performance standards for buildings, can cut energy use in commercial buildings by 30 to 50 percent by 2030, locking in energy savings for years to come. Furthermore, ECBC adoption is a central element of India’s building efficiency policy framework that underpins the nation’s climate commitments and its ambitious Smart Cities initiative.

Two leading cities, Amaravati and Hyderabad, capitals of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana respectively, are working with knowledge partners the Administrative Staff College of India (ASCI) and NRDC on code implementation. Andhra Pradesh and Telangana were the first in India to make the ECBC mandatory in 2014. The code is applicable to all new commercial buildings with a plot area of more than 1,000 square meters or built up area of more than 2,000 square meters and certain categories of buildings such as multiplexes, hospitals, hotels and convention centers irrespective of their built-up area.

Amaravati – Andhra Pradesh’s New Capital

Like much of India, Amaravati presents an exciting opportunity. Two-thirds of the building structures that will exist in 2030, are yet to be built. Experts agree that it is cheaper and easier to build efficiency into new construction than it to pay for retrofits later. Implementing building codes in cities now provides an opportunity to set the construction standards for energy efficient buildings before a majority of the buildings are already constructed.

Under the leadership of Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, Andhra Pradesh, and its new capital Amaravati, is leading by implementing energy-efficient building construction for the entire state.  

AP Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu is leading the state’s energy-efficient urbanisation


Amravati is developing an online ECBC compliance and building approval system to make compliance convenient for developers in the region. Last year, Hyderabad became the first city to develop such a system. However, Amravati has since moved faster and has undertaken several key activities to implement the code.  

Hyderabad – Telangana’s IT Capital

Hyderabad, the capital of Telangana, is pioneering a system for online energy code compliance, similar to Amaravati, that can potentially be a role model as several Indian cities continue to grow at a rapid pace while striving to meet energy demand and fight climate change.

Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao leading to make the state energy secure

The pilot phase in Hyderabad focuses on on-the-ground change and implementation of energy efficiency practices, and is developed in partnership with the state and city government. In efforts to streamline the energy efficiency code for local conditions, the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation along with the Telangana state’s Municipal Administration & Urban Development (MAUD) department developed preliminary draft guidelines for a simplified version of the Telangana State Energy Conservation Building Code (TSECBC). The draft guidelines were developed after six months of discussions with experts, including engineers and architects with key developers, the International Institute of Information Technology (IIIT), among others. The draft guidelines are available for a further comment by developers and stakeholders to improve the online compliance system.

Led by MAUD’s ECBC Technical Committee, Telangana State and Hyderabad are working on effective implementation of the code that includes awareness and capacity building; integration with the building approval process, and technical and expert support. Stakeholder discussions and responses have been positive with the creation of an ECBC cell and resources. Real estate developers have assured cooperation to support implementation of the compliance system. Telangana has also been working on an extensive third-party assessor program to accelerate implementation. 

Five key actions that Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are taking:

  • Establishing an ECBC Cell in the city administration offices: The states have established a dedicated ECBC Cell consisting of two technical ECBC experts. The Cell is housed in the city town planning department that is tasked with managing all new building approvals. The role of the ECBC Cell is to provide technical assistance to the city authorities and conduct stakeholder trainings to build city- and state-level capacity to implement the code.
  • Providing helpful technical resources to support code compliance: With the help of ASCI, NRDC and IIIT, the states have developed a set of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for stakeholders. The FAQs address different aspects of the code and help developers, architects and third-party assessors comply with ECBC’s technical aspects.
  • Communicating with the state’s other cities on implementation processes: Amaravati is actively communicating with the other key cities in the state. All urban local bodies (city councils) are aware of the development of a dedicated ECBC cell and knowledge resources to mainstream code compliance in the overall building permission process. In Telangana, the MAUD is taking on the role of communicating with all major cities in the state.
  • Consulting with stakeholders and building capacity: The ECBC Cell has held extensive meetings with architects, building engineering consultants, real estate developers, and other stakeholders in the state and is planning to conduct several awareness workshops for them. Special workshops for members of the Council of Architecture are also underway.
  • Identifying demonstration projects: The state is identifying key projects to demonstrate the process of code compliance, to provide an example for future project. The state aims to develop a database of ECBC-compliant buildings as the code becomes more mainstream.

Progress in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana brings India one step closer to meeting its energy intensity targets under the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015. As India celebrates its heritage and achievements on the 70th Independence Day, we should look toward increasing our energy independence in the future. More states should join Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in leading the way and taking a step toward energy independence by implementing the ECBC. State-level leadership can accelerate energy-efficient cities across India and with it, India’s energy future. 

Co-authored with Rajkiran Bilolikar, Associate Professor (Energy) at the Administrative Staff College of India, Hyderabad. 

Catalyzing Green Infrastructure on Private Property: Recommendations for a Green, Equitable, and Sustainable New York City

These recommendations were developed over the last 19 months in response to the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)’s request for assistance and is the product of Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) collaboration with NYU-Stern Center for Sustainable Business (NYU-Stern), supported by The New York Community Trust, The J.P. Morgan Chase Foundation, the J.M. Kaplan Fund, and the JPB Foundation.

As DEP develops a new private property green infrastructure grant program, we hope these recommendations will help the agency succeed in achieving its water quality goals while also contributing to citywide efforts toward stronger, sustainable, resilient, and equitable communities.

Revolutionizing Sustainable Operations by Doing 'More Good'
Eileen Quigley

Studies have shown that writing down goals increases the chance that they are achieved.[i] That is why NRDC’s Facilities and Administration Team has distilled our sustainability efforts into 13 written goals. What we aim to achieve in the next 4 years, when it comes to reducing the planetary impact of our operations, is articulated over 20 pages and in a detailed project list. It is with this second formal manifestation of NRDC’s Sustainable Operations Plan that we are deepening our organization’s relationship with the planet and the humans that inhabit it.

NRDC's Sustainable Operations Goals

NRDC has a strong history of leading commercial sustainability in the built environment with our offices. We were recognized 30 years ago for the uniquely sustainable renovation of our New York office. Since then, we’ve pursued the highest level of green building certification we can get our hands on. Five years ago, our first formal Sustainable Operations Plan was released. Since then, despite growth in both headcount and square footage of office space, we decreased our offices’ building emissions by an impressive 42% because we recorded and acted upon goals. Key projects include comprehensive heating and cooling efficiency measures in New York (our largest office), target setting using the input of our subject matter expert staff and holding ourselves accountable by reporting on them via the Global Reporting Initiative with the most comprehensive “A” level of disclosure. Per the first plan, we installed a real-time monitoring system called Noveda, to measure and track our energy and water use. We implemented an additional process by which to measure our daily waste streams. As a result of having powerful data at our fingertips, we noticed where we were wasting resources unnecessarily and took corrective measures. An added perk: monetary savings.

NRDC's Environmental Metrics, Fiscal years 2012 to 2016

The proven success of our first plan was energizing. Based on the results, the next iteration of the plan was created. The current 5 year Sustainable Operations Plan naturally builds on the previous one by redefining the boundaries. We re-framed our overall objective in a fundamentally different way. We see the opportunity for any office building to act in harmony with nature rather than squandering its resources. Sustainability strategies often aim primarily at reducing negative impact, our footprint. Now, we aren’t stopping at being less bad. We are asking: How do we increase the positive impacts of operating an office? How do we cause good beyond our walls? We are calling that our handprint. Our program staff’s handprint is visible through the policies they shape, the scientific discoveries they share and the protection of our natural habitat. The Facilities and Administration Team’s handprint is to uphold NRDC’s mission through our day-to-day work, both directly through our actions and by setting an example for others to follow.

A sustainability plan isn’t unique these days. Companies all over the world recognize that overhead costs go down and risk is mitigated when they observe their operations with a conservation lens. However, the typical scope needs to be re-imagined to have more measurable impacts beyond reducing a footprint to zero. Why should we be satisfied with zero when we can create positive results? You, too can create a powerful, positive, regenerative sustainability plan and reap the benefits. What is your environmental impact? How can you operate your business while having a net benefit to the planet?

At NRDC, we see our offices as both physical spaces and change agents. We seek ways in which our daily operations can have a positive handprint on the world. Check out our Sustainable Operations Plan on our website to learn how. Join us in creating your own. Let’s high five to that!

To learn more about NRDC’s sustainability efforts or to contact the team, visit www.nrdc.org/our-sustainability

[i] http://www.dominican.edu/dominicannews/study-highlights-strategies-for-a...

Real Estate’s Commitment to Green Continues to Grow
Hilary Firestone

This post was co-authored by Dan Sakaguchi.

Whether it is President Trump’s proposed budget or Scott Pruitt’s rollback of EPA policies, the federal government appears to be walking backward when it comes to progress on sustainability. However, the real estate community is running forward; in cities across the U.S., more buildings are green certified than ever before. This is a promising sign that even as federal priorities wander, building owners and operators recognize that efficiency continues to make sense.

The National Green Building Adoption Index study released this month is the fourth in an annual series laying out a snapshot of which cities are leading the way in building efficiency. The researchers from CBRE, the world’s largest commercial real estate firm, and Maastricht University compiled data on the proportion of office buildings that received LEED and ENERGY STAR labels in the 30 cities with the largest office markets. This year, Chicago has taken first place with an impressive 66 percent of its office space (by percentage of square footage) now green certified, advancing from second place last year.

Green Building Adoption in 30 Largest U.S. Office Markets

CBRE Group, Inc.

However, while Chicago certainly deserves kudos for this achievement, this report demonstrates reassuring progress across all cities studied. Overall, 38 percent of all commercial office space is now certified under LEED or ENERGY STAR, up one percent from last year and nearly an eightfold increase from 2005.

In particular, this series of studies points at the impressive success of the LEED and ENERGY STAR programs.  Over 37,000 commercial projects have met LEED requirements and nearly 31,000 properties are currently certified by ENERGY STAR. The growth of these programs shows that many businesses are proud to signal their commitment to sustainability and that such certifications are becoming increasingly necessary to remain competitive.

Beyond this, the continued growth of ENERGY STAR certifications shows that operators of underperforming buildings are racing to keep up with the rest of the pack. One-third of current ENERGY STAR certified buildings initially scored below the required threshold when they first began benchmarking their consumption. These buildings improved operations and/or made energy efficient upgrades on their path to becoming ENERGY STAR certified. Moreover, because the certification is based on a relative performance compared to other similar buildings, these improving buildings are raising the bar on efficiency and pushing America’s building stock to more aggressive standards.

Total US Adoption of LEED and ENERGY STAR

CBRE Group, Inc.

NRDC, in partnership with the Institute for Market Transformation, works closely with thirteen of the cities recorded in the study through the City Energy Project (CEP), a national initiative to create healthier and more prosperous American cities by improving the energy efficiency of buildings. The report shows that these cities continue to perform strongly on the Green Building Adoption Index, with ten of these thirteen cities making it into the top twenty ranked cities in the study.

As seen from data compiled for the report, most CEP cities saw high increases in certified office space between the years 2007 and 2010. Since then, most cities have seen slow, but continual, rates of expansion. Several cities have maintained strong expansion of green certification since 2010, however. In particular, Atlanta, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and San Jose have all expanded their green-labeled office space coverage by more than ten percentage points over the past seven years.

A key policy tool many cities are using to increase energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions is the implementation of benchmarking and transparency ordinances. Data from the report makes it increasingly clear that these ordinances play an important role in incentivizing efficiency upgrades and certifications. Nine of the top ten markets ranked in the survey have implemented benchmarking ordinances, and several cities, such as Kansas City and Atlanta, have seen significant coverage increases since passage of their ordinances. The researchers also performed a simple regression analysis on the index results, finding that even after controlling for differences between cities, implementing a benchmarking ordinance is correlated with a 21 percent increase in green-certified office space.

Of course, these results are limited—for example, they do not demonstrate causation, nor do they consider the impacts of ordinances in cities with smaller office markets such as Austin or Seattle. However, these tentative results contribute to an increasing bevy of reports that suggest a significant, and likely causal, relationship between benchmarking ordinances and energy savings. David Pogue, CBRE’s Global Director of Corporate Responsibility points out that “while it is still too early to make a definitive correlation between benchmarking ordinances and the rate of growth in ‘green’ buildings, this year’s findings do begin to establish a link that will be studied closely in the future.” 

It’s worth noting this report focuses on top performers among large cities, which will remain key arenas for major efficiency improvements in the future. However, it is important to highlight the many other cities that have made progress whose successes are not as well documented. Many other, albeit smaller, cities, including seven in the City Energy Project, are not ranked. These smaller cities are passing benchmarking ordinances, participating in DOE’s Better Buildings Challenge and making great strides on energy efficiency. Additionally, many lower-performing buildings have made significant improvements but have not yet achieved or sought out an ENERGY STAR or LEED label. Just as leadership cities and buildings are showcased in the National Green Building Adoption Index, the community should also develop tools to recognize cities and buildings that are making meaningful carbon reductions and improvements across the spectrum.

Despite contrary signals from the federal government, the momentum of cities towards sustainability is unchecked. We continue to see a flurry of efficiency commitments from cities, and even just this year St. Louis and South Portland passed their own benchmarking ordinances. CBRE’s reports show the private sector continues to place importance on green rating systems and labels and we anticipate more real estate owners will prioritize efficiency investments over time. 

ENERGY STAR Cities Take Advantage of Benchmarking’s Benefits
Hilary Firestone

It’s that time of year again: the days are getting warmer and the annual ENERGY STAR Top Cities rankings are released. Once again, we find that the top five cities with the most ENERGY STAR certified buildings are all cities that have benchmarking policies in place. Moreover, 11 of the top 20 cities are participating in the City Energy Project. What makes this so noteworthy, you ask?

ENERGY STAR, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Well, to understand the significance of the answer, let’s go over the concepts of energy benchmarking and ENERGY STAR certification.

Energy benchmarking is a process to regularly measure and track a building’s energy consumption over time. EPA’s Portfolio Manager is a free online tool that makes it easy for building owners to do just that. Not only can one track one’s own building’s energy usage, but for 21 building types, Portfolio Manager can produce an ENERGY STAR score from 1-100. This score lets the user know how the building’s energy performance compares to similar buildings across the US. And, to add a competitive edge to the process, if a building receives a score of 75 or greater, it is performing in the top 25 percent of buildings of its type, thereby qualifying it for ENERGY STAR certification.

In many cities, the energy used to power buildings is its principal contributor of greenhouse gases. For example, in New York City, buildings account for 71 percent of its total emissions. Furthermore, in Los Angeles, a city dominated by a preponderance of car travel, buildings still produce 51 percent of its total greenhouse gas emissions. Because of this, focusing attention on energy consumption in buildings, and subsequently ways to mitigate it, is critical in the efforts to ease the strain of climate change.

Over the last ten years, city governments have increasingly developed policies and programs aimed at improving the energy efficiency of existing buildings. Benchmarking has become one of the key tools in their doing so. With San Francisco, D.C. and New York taking the lead, cities began passing mandatory benchmarking ordinances, requiring large buildings to annually benchmark using Portfolio Manager. Today, 23 cities and 2 counties have benchmarking policies. By having building owners regularly review their energy consumption, it allows them to understand their usage and encourage them to find ways to cut waste. And it is starting to have an impact.

An EPA study found that buildings that were regularly benchmarked were repeatedly seeing an average energy reduction of 2.4 percent per year. More specifically, New York City reported a 6 percent reduction in energy usage between 2010 and 2013 from municipally mandated benchmarking of its buildings. Chicago has seen a 4 percent energy reduction in the properties that have benchmarked for three consecutive years.

The hope is that increasing awareness around energy efficiency will have a contagious effect.

The EPA has certainly seen an increase in interest in their tool Portfolio Manager and the number of buildings being certified. Since 1999, over 30,000 buildings have received ENERGY STAR recognition. Last year alone, 7,500 buildings earned the designation, and in turn cut 7.9 million metric tons of greenhouse gases and saved $1.8 billion.

Recognizing the impact buildings have on energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, NRDC and IMT collaborated to launch the City Energy Project to support cities in their efforts to bring energy efficiency to large existing buildings. Many of the first ten cities participating in the City Energy Project have looked to benchmarking as a means to assist building owners, tenants, engineers and other stakeholders obtain the necessary information on their energy use and then, hopefully, determine ways to improve it. With ten more cities in the City Energy Project actively working to improve their building stock, we expect to see more buildings benchmarking, and in turn making improvements that could lead to ENERGY STAR certification. Stay tuned in the years to come for new cities to take their turn at the top of these rankings.  

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Imagine owning a brand that’s both well-known and widely trusted by consumers and businesses all over America. Now imagine that it turns a $50 million annual investment into $30+ billion worth of annual customer utility bill savings, and has resulted in branded sales of more than 5 billion products since its inception. ENERGY STAR is that amazingly successful and impactful program!


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