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Conference Wrap-up: ENERGY STAR and the American Institute of Architects Team Up in Miami

“Design for the New Decade” was the theme for the 2010 American Institute of Architects National Convention, which just took place June 10-12 in Miami. Bustling with the usual workshops, networking opportunities and vendor exhibits, the convention also offered provocative keynote speeches. The speakers encouraged us to take a step back, reflect about how we consume our resources, and examine our quality of life and the role architects play in making things happen for the better.

Although their words were inspirational—occasionally alarming enough to shake some people out of their complacency—they didn’t always leave us with guidance about what to do today, tomorrow or in the near term to make a difference in the way our planet evolves.

That made me appreciate even more the work the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR program has accomplished with AIA during recent years. Together, our joint efforts to green the built environment in systemic, practical ways have not only succeeded, but have also expanded each year.

EPA works with nonprofit member organizations, like AIA, to encourage professionals in many different walks of life to participate in voluntary sustainability programs covering a broad range of environmental issues. ENERGY STAR is one such program where the principles of sustainability have been turned into concrete actionable strategies.

In joining ENERGY STAR, AIA made a fundamental commitment to help protect the environment by promoting superior energy performance in commercial buildings. That, in turn, enhances the financial health of AIA members and their clients and protects the environment for future generations. Partnering with ENERGY STAR, AIA has committed to encouraging architects to:

  • Use ENERGY STAR tools and resources to assess fossil-fuel energy use associated with carbon-dioxide emissions for commercial building projects.
  • Support the ENERGY STAR Challenge—EPA’s national call-to-action to help fight climate change.
  • AIA has gone even further with its commitment by incorporating the EPA energy-performance metrics in the AIA Committee on the Environment’s Top 10 Green Projects criteria and actively supporting the ENERGY STAR Challenge for the past four years.

    The outstanding results of our joint efforts were showcased at the Miami convention in the COTE and ENERGY STAR galleries. The two galleries featured projects from firms that are “designing far beyond the new decade.” These firms are leading the way and showing others that sustainable energy strategies are good design for the environment and bottom line.

    The ENERGY STAR Challenge differs in approach from the COTE Top 10 Green Projects competition. The challenge is a call-to-action encouraging all firms to participate. We were excited to have almost 60 different architecture firms this year submit more than 80 design projects that met or exceeded the EPA score of 75 to earn ENERGY STAR certification and be honored in Miami. More than 30 of these projects are intended to reduce fossil-fuel energy use and CO2 emissions by 50 percent or more, clearly demonstrating that meeting the AIA 2030 Commitment is an attainable goal.

    What’s also unique about the ENERGY STAR Challenge projects is they all report estimated whole-building energy use. That includes the human interaction with the building systems, such as plug loads, hours the building will be occupied, and process loads for cooking and building services. These factors account for the largest drivers of energy use. Although building codes are ramping up requirements for equipment efficiencies, codes do not offer the whole-building calculation necessary to compare the design energy to actual energy use of “real” buildings with similar functions.

    EPA’s approach goes beyond business as usual and requires knowing how buildings use energy and how much they use. Case in point: At the start of my session, “From Alpha to Omega with ENERGY STAR,” in Miami, I asked how many people had actually gone back to measure the energy performance of their projects. A few people hesitantly raised their hands. Yet, using EPA’s online tools to benchmark a building once it is operating is very straightforward. I immediately reversed the timeframe of my question to keep the audience engaged: “How many intend to build this into their work from now on?” More than half the audience raised their hands to affirm that that they would measure energy performance on future completed projects. Now that’s moving in the right direction!

    My session demonstrated how EPA online tools make it easy to communicate the energy and CO2 reduction goals for design projects and the performance results for completed, operating buildings. The ENERGY STAR Challenge is one way that architects and building owners can show they are achieving AIA’s goals and contributing to EPA’s mission to prevent greenhouse-gas emissions.

    In front of their peers in Miami at a special recognition ceremony, Kohl’s Department Store and MulvannyG2 Architecture, one of Kohl’s architecture firms, were honored by EPA and AIA for working together to establish energy and sustainability goals for new store designs. They also were recognized for operating their portfolio of stores so that as many as possible earn the ENERGY STAR label for superior performance. EPA’s tools make it easy for Kohl’s to target, measure and track the energy use from designing to operating their stores by using the same rating scale throughout the building’s life cycle. The tools allow Kohl’s and its designers to evaluate whether design goals were achieved, how much energy their stores really use and whether GHG emissions from energy use are decreasing over time. In June, the ENERGY STAR Challenge for Architects was also proud to launch its first ever Facebook Favorite Contest, which showcased 10 projects from this year’s submittals. We “tweeted” on Twitter to get the word out to architects and their friends about voting for their favorite. The response was great!

    Congratulations to the Facebook Favorite project, the 300 University Avenue office project in Sacramento, Calif., designed by Dreyfuss & Blackford Architects. The runner-up was the Mingalarama Monastery Residence Hall in Silver Spring, Md., designed by Tom Nyein. All the projects can be found on the AIA Facebook page.

    Thanks to AIA’s support and the architectural firms that took the ENERGY STAR Challenge and submitted energy-efficient projects this year, we had a very successful 2010 convention and look forward to next year in New Orleans. I encourage every architecture firm and every building owner to participate in the ENERGY STAR Challenge—starting today—and help our nation reduce the carbon footprint of current and future buildings.

    Karen P. Butler manages Commercial Building Design--EPA ENERGY STAR Program.

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