ENERGY STAR Battle of the Buildings

Energy Star: The Trusted Blue Label for Products and Buildings

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By Megan Bozman

Who hasn’t had the joyful task of shopping for a new refrigerator and seeing the “ENERGY STAR” labels? ENERGY STAR is described as, “a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency voluntary program that helps businesses and individuals save money and protect our climate through superior energy efficiency.”

The ‘explainer video’ features cheerful animation and further detail about the “trusted blue label.” Listening to the narrator describe, at auctioneer-speed, all of the attributes required for ENERGY STAR certification of a light bulb, I was reminded of the “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.” Essentially, ENERGY STAR has tested and verified this product, so you can trust it. Sure enough, the ENERGY STAR site mentions it is “tied with the Good Housekeeping® seal as the most influential consumer emblem in the nation.”

ENERGY STAR certification extends far beyond lightbulbs to products in more than 70 categories. Additionally, over 1.6 million homes and 25,000 buildings are ENERGY STAR certified. ENERGY STAR is also incorporated into numerous green building certifications, including LEED. Studies have shown that ENERGY STAR certified buildings have lower operating costs as well as increased asset value, and command higher rental rates.

Portfolio Manager Enables Benchmarking

ENERGY STAR offerings include the “Portfolio Manager,” an online tool for measuring and tracking energy and water use. It includes more than 150 different metrics for insight into performance. Certain property types also receive a 1 – 100 ENERGY STAR score, which compares a property’s energy performance to similar properties nationwide.

Multifamily Housing

The ENERGY STAR score for multifamily housing, a mix of apartment buildings, and condominiums, was first launched in the fall of 2014. This enables properties with 20 or more residential units to receive an ENERGY STAR score. Additionally, Fannie Mae requires any property with a Fannie Mae Multifamily loan to report its score. Unfortunately, some multifamily building owners have difficulty getting access to whole-building energy data.

Tenant Star

In April, 2015 Congress passed an act, referred to as “The next frontier in building efficiency,” directing EPA and DOE to create, “a tenant-focused version of EPA’s Energy Star for buildings program.”

“Known to many as the ‘Tenant Star’ bill, the program is expected to become a market-driven approach to aligning the interests of commercial building owners and their tenants to reduce energy consumption, save money and spur job growth. Tenant Star will be the first government-endorsed label in the U.S. to recognize leased spaces within commercial buildings for sustainable design and operation.”

On October 5, 2016, EPA released proposed criteria for recognizing efficient office tenant spaces at the design and construction phase. EPA is hoping to finalize the criteria and make the recognition available for office tenants by the end of 2017, with retail and warehouse to follow soon after.

As Adam Sledd wrote in GreenBiz, “The potential is extraordinary, but realizing it will require sustained effort to nail each step along the way.”

Friendly Competition Fuels Progress

“Since 2010, EPA has run the ENERGY STAR® Battle of the Buildings, which enlists interested building owners from across the country to compete in saving energy and water.” This year’s “BOOTCAMP” competition is currently underway from September 1 through November 30. More than 200 organizations have registered more than 800 buildings to compete.

The fitness imagery amuses me. It’s a fitting metaphor. However, I daresay it’s not ideal for connecting with the target audience, considering the majority of Americans don’t regularly exercise.

ESCOs Help Achieve Energy Efficiency

Minnesota is conducting their own challenge, spear-headed by John Paulson, Project/Environmental/Regulatory Manager for the City of Hutchinson, Minnesota. The goal of the “Minnesota Energy Star Challenge” is to work toward increasing the number of Energy Star Certified Buildings in the state.

Mr. Paulson stated, “We’d been deferring maintenance, so we started considering working with an energy services company [ESCO].” Hutchinson selected AMERESCO in 2008, and obtained a grant from the State of Minnesota’s Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grant program. In total, the project encompassed 14 city-owned buildings or facilities including the library, ice arena, city center, airport, and police department. Paulson said that he has calculated a simple payback time of 5.6 years for the entire project, after which the city will begin to distribute annual decreased costs to operations.”

Expansive Marketing Support

The ENERGY STAR program includes extensive marketing communications components. Resources offered include management tools, training sessions, networking meetings, marketing materials, and off-the-shelf employee outreach kits. Additionally the “Rule Your Attic!” campaign, which aims to help homeowners understand the benefits of proper attic insulation, includes cooperation with a pest control operator.

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