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Can we transform the built environment by 2030?

A new DOE-funded resource to improve energy efficiency in commercial buildings could catalyze carbon reduction in cities.

Energy independence, climate change and community resilience are among important issues that the clean energy revolution aims to resolve through increased uptake of energy efficient technologies, development of sustainable communities, and strategic operation and maintenance of buildings.

American cities are emerging as an integral piece to the sustainability puzzle with major metropolitan areas setting ambitious energy efficiency targets and regulatory requirements, ultimately serving as hubs for strategic solutions and innovation. 

What is the opportunity for increased sustainability?

Domestic buildings account for about $400 billion in national energy consumption with about 85 percent of the population residing in major cities. 

The progression of urbanization can take one of two paths — it can place a greater demand on existing energy systems and infrastructure and contribute to unsustainable behavior, or it can encourage state and local leaders and the building community to think outside the box and develop impactful solutions that will allow for deeper reductions in energy consumption.

Investing in energy efficiency isn’t just necessary to develop resilient communities; it also makes good business sense as it creates jobs and strengthens economic competitiveness.  

How are municipalities leading the way?

State and local energy efficiency programs and policies are critical to ensuring that revenue conserved through the application of cost-effective energy improvements is reallocated to initiatives that will continue to help reduce demand, improve system reliability, reduce dependency on unsustainable resources and provide significant public health and environmental benefits. The industry is responding to the need for transparency in building data to drive environmentally responsible behavior.

An example of this is the recent CoStar Group announcement of plans to display building energy efficiency and energy performance information in the CoStar Property database, with future efforts to incorporate energy usage data collected through state and local governments across the country.

Investing in energy efficiency isn’t just necessary to develop resilient communities; it also makes good business sense .

New York City is among the major metropolitan cities working to become more resilient with its Stronger, More Resilient action plan, which incorporates 250 ambitious infrastructure resilience initiatives across a number of categories, including transportation, telecommunications, parks, insurance and buildings. On the opposite coast, San Francisco has implemented a successful zero-waste program, with 80 percent of all waste being diverted from landfills, and the aim of 100 percent diversion by 2020.

To support sustainable cities, a variety of stakeholders have developed programs that provide resources and technical assistance to state and local decision makers as they work towards the advancement of energy efficiency policies and programs incorporating building energy codes, regulations and financing solutions, as well as evaluation, measurement and verification of data.

Architecture 2030 and the Department of Energy

Architecture 2030 is working to develop and implement strategies to reduce fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It hopes to stimulate the creation of resilient communities.

Garnering recognition through the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Kemper Award for catalyzing the architecture community to address climate change through design, the organization has championed the cause of sustainable carbon neutral planning and design in the built environment through various innovative programs, such as its 2030 Districts initiative, which focuses on supporting major metropolitan areas in their sustainability endeavors.

2030 Districts are unique in that each district is comprised of partnerships between private and public entities in designated urban areas across North America committed to reducing energy and water usage, as well as transport emissions. The concerted effort made by property owners and managers, local governments, business and community stakeholders has resulted in increased instances of benchmarking, development of strategies to renovate hundreds of millions of square feet of existing buildings, and the construction of high-performance properties.

Having expanded to include two new cities — San Antonio, Texas and Grand Rapids, Michigan — the 2030 Districts represent nearly 300 million square feet with continued expansion expected in the future. All of the districts are a part of the 2030 District Network, which allows each to leverage data available, best practices and verification methods to monitor progress, ultimately allowing for continued advancement towards Architecture 2030’s overall goal of a carbon neutral built environment.

The industry is responding to the need for transparency in building data to drive environmentally responsible behavior.

In an effort to further expand its support for 2030 Districts, Architecture 2030 created the 2030 Districts Marketplace, an online resource intended to offer innovative products at below-market prices, through the 2030 Districts Network and in partnership with the Department of Energy (DOE, for which I consult).

Architecture 2030, DOE and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab also have partnered together to develop a district program geared towards improving energy efficiency in small commercial buildings (office, restaurant and retail), which includes a technical toolkit that provides technical guidance, resources and analysis tools for building owners and operators. Small commercial buildings are identified as properties that are less than 50,000 square feet in size and represent more than half of the entire commercial building stock, making them an ideal vessel to achieving substantial decreases in energy consumption and GHG emissions.

The technical toolkit, developed with $2 million in funding through DOE’s Commercial Energy Efficiency Solutions 2013 FOA, integrates new and existing tools providing users the ability to analyze and evaluate measures for HVAC equipment, interior equipment, lighting and whole building measures whether individually or in packages. Small commercial building owners in the Seattle and Pittsburgh 2030 Districts have started pilots using the tools to perform energy efficiency retrofits, with full dissemination planned for other districts later this year.

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