The Challenge of Measuring Our Carbon Footprint
Wow, we’re already well into 2010! This is the year the 2030 Challenge says fossil-fuel-energy consumption must be 50 percent better than that of an average building to meet 2030 targets and stave off the irreversible effects of climate change. We have made monumental strides in raising awareness of the impact of energy use in our commercial buildings, but we still have a long way to go to reach consensus about a mix of metrics and measurement tools.
The industry still is trying to figure out the metrics. Some are calling for a metric that shows achieving “net-zero” energy use while others are holding fast to a “percentage better than” reference point. Then there are those who are savvy enough to simply ask “How much energy am I using?” and "If I make improvements to my building or design, will it reduce energy use and carbon-dioxide emissions?".
The latter is the approach deployed by the EPA’s energy-performance scale. Lord Kelvin's adage "To measure is to know" adds credence to this philosophy. The rating requires no fancy tools or time-consuming calculations on the part of the architect. It simply adds up how much energy is used in a building, compares that to energy used by similar buildings and provides a score based on a 1–100 scale. As the energy-use score approaches 100, it means the building is in the top percentile of energy performers—less energy is being used or what is used is being consumed very efficiently.
Many of our critics have contended the score is counterintuitive to reaching net-zero-energy use. My response to them is that net zero is a wonderful conceptual framework for incorporating renewable energy in designing future buildings. However, most of the commercial building properties in this country will not reach net-zero-energy consumption any time in the immediate future or by 2030. So, in the mean time, why not measure actual energy consumption while finding new and innovative ways to reduce fossil-fuel-energy use rather than quibble over whether we measure to zero or to 100?
This brings up another point: designing buildings to meet the 2030 goals mandated by many industry groups and state and local governments. With ENERGY STAR, architects and their engineering teams are working with building owners to do their part to not only design buildings to meet the challenge, but also take it one step further by measuring the performance of their projects and learning valuable lessons about how to design, construct and operate buildings that perform at their very highest level.
The 2010 ENERGY STAR Challenge will showcase architects, engineers and building owners who are taking action and pushing the boundaries beyond conventional thinking RIGHT NOW. They are designing and operating future buildings to be more efficient and more sustainable by preventing CO2 emissions. How do we know they are making a difference? These companies set targets, measure outcomes and submit their results to EPA.
Through the end of 2009, more than 110 architects/engineering firms have taken the ENERGY STAR Challenge and submitted more than 225 projects, including almost 80 that are intended to achieve 50 percent or greater CO2 and energy-use reductions. These architects are providing their clients with a goal to strive for once the building is operating. And the owner, along with the operations and management staff and occupants, will have a head start in meeting energy and carbon goals through measuring and verifying the building's performance.
This year and going forward, EPA's goal is to create ways to close the gap between design and performance. We've already incorporated a rating system that uses the same metrics for designing and operating buildings. And, we've created companion tools for target setting and tracking energy use—Target Finder and Portfolio Manager. Since 2007, we’ve showcased and recognized owners and architecture teams who are taking the concept full circle. We know the forward-thinking architects and owners are on board. The challenge now is to get everyone to participate.
Kohl’s Department Stores exemplify the ENERGY STAR mantra by earning the building label for almost 25 percent of its building portfolio. Kohl’s commitment doesn’t stop there. The company’s designers already have completed projects that are Designed to Earn the ENERGY STAR with the intent to add these properties to the inventory of their top-performing buildings. Working with the architecture firms of Schroeder and Holt Architects and Mulvanny G2 Architecture, Kohl’s designs are expected to reduce the firm’s carbon footprint by an estimated 1,950 metric tons per year compared to average buildings. For existing properties, they've established goals to reduce energy consumption by 10 percent in 2013 from their 2007 baseline. Kohl’s outstanding efforts have garnered the coveted ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year Award for outstanding commitment and achievement in energy efficiency.
EPA applauds the lofty efforts of our partners who are not afraid to design to a realistic target and measure their outcomes—an important and necessary step in moving toward net-zero-energy use, if I may borrow the phrase! The design projects that have recently achieved a 75 or greater score and received Designed to Earn the ENERGY STAR certification will be on display at the 2010 American Institute of Architects National Convention in Miami, June 10-13.
Join us in Miami, take the ENERGY STAR Challenge and reduce our nation’s carbon footprint one design at a time.
Karen P. Butler manages Commercial Building Design--EPA ENERGY STAR Program.