Investing in Energy Efficiency Pays
New Study Shows Not All Green Buildings Are Alike
Not all green building projects are alike when it comes to energy efficiency, according to research conducted by the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT). CNT examined 25 Illinois commercial projects that received Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and found that some are more energy efficient than others.
Anne Evens, director of CNT Energy, says that increasing energy efficiency in buildings is an important goal for the Chicago region. “Buildings account for 61 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the Chicago region,” says Evens. “In order to reduce those emissions, we need to build for greater efficiency, and we need to save energy in existing buildings. The first step in making a building more efficient is to understand how it uses energy today. That baseline gives owners and operators the information to set and meet goals and to identify areas for improvement.”
CNT’s research and findings are part of the recently released Year 1 Final Report of the Regional Green Building Case Study Project: a Post-Occupancy Study of LEED Projects in Illinois, published by the USGBC – Chicago Chapter in collaboration with CNT and other regional partners. The U.S. Green Building Council rates green building projects for the voluntary LEED certification based on actions taken to address several areas including energy efficiency, indoor air quality, water use, location, and building materials.
CNT analyzed how projects performed over multiple years in areas including energy and water use, greenhouse gas emissions, operating costs, commute transportation and occupant comfort. CNT’s research concluded that the Illinois projects that prioritize energy efficiency as a key LEED strategy are more likely to have better energy performance than projects that prioritized other LEED categories.
The research also shows the importance of looking beyond the planning and construction phases of green building projects to implement regular tracking of the use and cost of energy, water and other resources, and to establish operation and maintenance practices that improve performance.
“CNT is a leader in analyzing energy use in buildings and in providing useful feedback to building owners and operators,” said Doug Widener, executive director of the USGBC – Chicago Chapter. “Their research supports the USGBC’s efforts to ensure that LEED certified projects achieve energy savings throughout the life cycle of the building.” The study also concludes that is important to continue to collect and analyze energy use data on an ongoing basis in order to understand the impact of changes over time. Performance evaluations must take into account changes in building occupancy, use, operations, and maintenance, as well as systems improvements.
The USGBC took a step in this direction in August when it launched its Building Performance Initiative. The initiative aims to create a system for collecting and analyzing energy and other resource use data from LEED certified buildings and providing feedback to owners.
This research is funded by Grand Victoria Foundation. The second phase of this research will kick off later this fall and will include up to 50 new and returning projects.
About Center for Neighborhood Technology Founded in 1978, CNT (www.cnt.org) is a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that works nationally in advancing urban sustainability by researching, inventing and testing strategies that use resources more efficiently and equitably. Its programs focus on climate, energy, natural resources, transportation, and community development. CNT Energy is the energy services and planning division of CNT that focuses on energy efficiency in buildings, including performance measurement. CNT is one of eight nonprofits selected from around the world to be recognized by a 2009 MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions, from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.