Building Owners Get Help Staying Ahead of New Green Laws

Building Owners Get Help Staying Ahead of New Green Laws

More than 50 cities, regional governments and nations have enacted rating and disclosure measures to regulate the energy performance of commercial buildings in the past 15 years. In the U.S., five cities and two states have put similar laws on the books in the past five years.

While the U.S. is relatively new to the process, the speed with which regulations are being developed and the federal push to make existing buildings more energy efficient make it likely that more local and regional governments will soon adopt building energy performance requirements.

How can policymakers and property owners stay ahead of the curve? Two tools released Tuesday are designed to help government agencies at all levels navigate what Andrew Burr of the Institute for Market Transformation calls "the relative wilderness" of the energy performance policy landscape in the U.S. And, though aimed at policymakers, the tools also can help building owners and operators.

The Institute for Market Transformation's report, "Building Energy Transparency: A Framework for Implementing U.S. Commercial Energy Rating & Disclosure Policy," provides a roadmap for cities and other local governments that are considering building energy performance measures, developing them or in the early stages of putting them into effect.

The report examines policy set in Austin, Texas, Washington, D.C, New York City, Seattle and San Francisco, and for California and Washington state. The 70-page report details the various requirements, what it took to draw up the policy and offers best practices in four key areas:

1. Outreach, Education and Training
2. Benchmarking Guidance
3. Compliance and Enforcement
4. Quality Assurance of Energy Consumption Data and Disclosures

Those recommendations, though drawn up for government agencies and policymakers, can be used as signposts by businesses that want to prepare for building performance requirements -- or participate in their development. Companies that own their buildings and real estate service firms that own or manage commercial property can take a cue from the cities of Seattle and San Francisco. They set up task forces on energy performance of existing buildings that involved public and private sector representatives, and their input was key in the framing and adoption of policy.

In concert with the IMT report, real estate services firm CB Richard Ellis introduced a tool to help businesses. CBRE's "Guide to State and Local Energy Performance Regulations" summarizes the building performance requirements in the five cities and two states.

Both tools are free and available online at and

The IMT report complements the online resource The Institute for Market Transformation and the Natural Resources Defense Council set up the website in March as an online repository for policy and information about building energy performance regulations around the world. Essentially, the site informs users about the "what" and the report answers the question of "how-to" when it comes to building performance policy.

Here's a recap of the reasons why such measures should be considered:

• Reducing energy consumption of buildings and facilities is one of the more effective strategies for cutting operation costs as well as environmental impacts. In the U.S., buildings account for U.S. buildings account for about 40 percent of the country's primary energy consumption and almost 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

• The greener the building, the higher the value to its owner and its occupants. CBRE's 2010 study "Do Green Buildings Make Dollars & Sense?" found that making buildings more efficient led to:
-- A 5 percent increase in building value
-- An 8 percent reduction in operating costs
-- Higher average rental rates, with the highest average among LEED certified buildings
-- Occupancy rates higher than the market average

The requirements are also good for business and create jobs, according to Burr of IMT. In an article Monday, Burr and IMT's Amanda Kolson Hurley noted that:

  • In New York City, where the first wave of requirements takes effect August 1, sustainability services firm Ecological doubled in size and added 400 clients in the past 12 months as a result of NYC's benchmarking and disclosure law.
  • The law also boosted the client base of Connecticut firm Sustainable Real Estate Solutions by 30 percent, which prompted the provider of software as a service solutions for building performance to hire more staff.
  • The first phase of San Francisco's benchmarking law, adopted in February, doesn't take effect until October 1. Already BuildingWise, a sustainability consulting firm specializing in LEED certification for existing buildings, is seeing a 30 percent increase in business.

Also, Burr told, requirements to benchmark and disclose energy performance of commercial buildings have the potential to transform a vast amount of the building stock. The policies in place could affect more than 4 billion square feet of space over the next couple of years, Burr said.

That would be almost three times the amount of square footage currently certified under the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification program, which had certified more than 1 billion square feet as of last year.

Image of the LEED-Gold certified Transamerica Pyramid CC licensed by Flickr user