The Benefits of Building Efficiency Go Far Beyond Energy Costs

This is the third in a Rocky Mountain Institute series on the steps business leaders can take to seize the economic and competitive opportunities outlined in Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era.

America's 120 million buildings consume a prodigious amount of energy -- 42 percent of the nation's primary energy, 72 percent of its electricity, and 34 percent of its directly used natural gas. They use more energy than any country except China and the United States as a whole.

The opportunities are great and the challenges daunting to achieve the massive potential energy savings in America's building stock.

To businesses faced with a flood of information, concern about costs and dizzying complexity in finding the right solution for the right buildings at the right time, the challenge may seem a bit like navigating the Internet without a search engine.

Reinventing Fire, Rocky Mountain Institute's blueprint for a 2050 U.S. economy powered by efficiency and renewables, outlines opportunities for building owners, service providers and investors to grasp the enormous potential for savings and business opportunities to be gained from transforming the nation's buildings.

Much of this can be done with today's commercially available technology and several emerging trends point toward how to crack the code. A key challenge is to dramatically accelerate these nascent trends. That will take both leadership and a leap in awareness of the potential for efficiency gains.

Businesses can start now to seize their piece of a $1.4-trillion-net opportunity, first, by starting at home and then by finding ways to expand.

Starting at Home

Improving the efficiency of buildings isn't easy. One reason: there's just too much information. Google "energy efficiency" and you'll see questions surrounding everything from building science to greenhouse gas reduction targets to green rating systems. As a leader at your organization, you can focus the efficiency efforts -- and maximize returns -- with three key tactics:

1. Know your short- and long-term goals. "I want to cut my energy use by more than 40 percent. How do I achieve that?" Setting clear goals is an important first step. Then, to develop an execution plan, you can ask engineers, consultants, utilities and other providers for:

  • An integrated package of energy efficiency measures that maximizes net present value over a number of years.
  • Implementation advice and ways to engage the operating staff and other employees at your organization to leverage the behavioral upside from energy consciousness.
  • Guidance for how to clearly communicate the plan to senior management, track progress and make it visible to employees, and enlist their knowledge, imagination and enthusiasm.

2. Understand that timing is the biggest driver of the capital cost of efficiency. If right-timed, efficiency projects often end up as only an incremental cost. Every time businesses sell buildings or tenants turn over creates an opportunity to save energy and add value.

Next page: Three ways businesses can profit