What is the largest contributor to global warming today? Many Americans believe that it is transportation, but, in fact, it is buildings.

In a 2007 survey of U.S. adults commissioned by the Washington, D.C.-based American Institute of Architects, 93 percent of respondents identified sources other than buildings as the main culprit of global warming. Architects, engineers and scientists concede to the Washington-based U.S. Energy Information Administration that buildings are in fact the greatest consumers of energy in the U.S. and consequently create more than 40 percent of greenhouse-gas, or GHG, emissions. Although buildings are doing the most harm, they also hold the greatest opportunity for reducing energy consumption and GHG emissions.

Programs, codes and standards slowly have increased the efficiency of buildings, but recently the idea of zero-energy, or carbon-neutral, buildings is being widely promoted. A zero-energy building features improved building systems designed to consume 70 to 80 percent less energy than today’s traditionally constructed buildings.

The Aldo Leopold Legacy Center is the first building in the U.S. recognized by the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Green Building Council as carbon neutral in operation. To read more, see “ecommercial,” May/June 2007 issue
Photo Courtesy of the Kubala Washatko Architects Inc./Mark F. Heffron The Aldo Leopold Legacy Center is the first building in the U.S. recognized by the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Green Building Council as carbon neutral in operation. To read more, see “ecommercial,” May/June 2007 issue

Zero energy can be achieved with an improved structure that features a tight envelope and energyefficient windows, among other attributes; proper site placement, including orientation and consideration of adjacent structures; and efficient lighting, heating and air-conditioning systems. Power needs are delivered through renewable sources, such as wind or photovoltaics, ideally located onsite. Demonstration projects have been successfully deployed that validate this concept, but broad acceptance and deployment is a daunting task. The newly formed Commercial Buildings Initiative proposes to take on this endeavor for the betterment of the building industry, as well as the environment. GETTING STARTED
The building sector is fairly evenly split between residential and commercial segments. Currently, the commercial segment is growing more rapidly than residential. Therefore, dramatic improvements in the energy performance of commercial buildings have the potential to reduce GHG emissions more quickly and cost effectively than residential construction while helping reduce the impact of increasingly volatile energy prices.

In late 2007, Congress recognized the importance of improving commercial buildings’ energy efficiency by enacting The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. One section of the legislation directs the Washington-based U.S. Department of Energy to “ ... develop and disseminate technologies, practices and policies for ... zero-energy commercial buildings ... .” DOE also was charged with formally recognizing and entering into an agreement with a “high-performance green-building partnership consortium.”

Prior to the enactment of this legislation, five key building-industry organizations had formed CBI, including the Washington-based Alliance to Save Energy; AIA; Atlanta-based American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers Inc.; Washington-based U.S. Green Building Council; and Washington-based World Business Council for Sustainable Development. The groups came together as the result of a meeting held in 2006 in which they discussed a major coordinated effort to change design and construction of buildings. In March, CBI members submitted a formal letter to the DOE asking to be recognized as the consortium described in the bill.

In its expanded form, CBI brings together owners, financiers, manufacturers, utilities, practitioners, policy makers, regulators, program planners, researchers, funding agencies and other stakeholders as a public-private collaborative focused on technology innovation, process change and market transformation. As a broad-based, public-private partnership, CBI will plan, coordinate and implement a comprehensive set of activities to transform energy performance in the commercial sector during the next two to three decades.

Photo Courtesy of the Kubala Washatko Architects Inc./Mark F. Heffron

Transforming the energy performance of commercial buildings is no small task; it will require a comprehensive effort aimed at technology development, demonstration and deployment that is supported by major innovations in policy and financing. A focused, multi-year public-private initiative, funded jointly by industry, utilities, states and the federal government, is critical to achieving a sector-wide transformation. In addition, the initiative must influence the $500 billion per year the sector spends on new construction, renovation and energy. CBI’s current activities revolve around formulating a series of action plans intended to define the current patterns of energy use; document best practices and projects; and identify the changes required for a transition to higher-performance buildings by building type, climate, ownership, management and stages in a building’s life cycle. Initial phases of this planning activity are currently underway to prepare action plans for office, retail and public buildings. The planning work will identify technology and process barriers to zero energy and recommend actions to address each major barrier. The CBI action plans are a key part of the national challenge to transform the energy efficiency of the built environment, and CBI actively seeks input from industry and other stakeholders in reviewing and commenting on the draft action plans. The action plans are intended to facilitate a seamless transition from planning to implementation, as well as complement ongoing activities by utilities, states and the private sector.

Photo Courtesy of the Kubala Washatko Architects Inc./Mark F. Heffron

Furthermore, CBI’s activities may include tracking and benchmarking the performance of real buildings; demonstrations of replicable, climate-sensitive solution packages for different building types; improved tools for integrated design of real-time feedback and investment-grade energy-performance rating, meaning energy use must be revealed as part of a leasing or sales transaction; and strategic research. However, effective market transformation calls for more than advanced technology, design capabilities and performance monitoring. It is essential CBI train builders, educate owners and occupants, attract lenders, encourage early adopters and more. To achieve this, CBI must engage many new stakeholders while continuing to motivate and support those already involved. Please consider supporting this monumental endeavor. Paul Ehrlich is president of St. Paul, Minn.-based Building Intelligence Group, a consulting firm whose purpose is to help the industry transition to more-efficient buildings. Building Intelligence Group has assisted the Commercial Buildings Initiative with organization, structure, research, plan development, workshops and communications. Ehrlich can be reached atpaul@buildingintelligencegroup.comor (651) 204-0105.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE COMMERCIAL BUILDINGS INITIATIVE, visit www.zeroenergy-cbi.org or e-mail one of the following individuals: