When you see a LEED plaque on a building, there are a few things you can be sure that it signifies, regardless of whether it is Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum. One such certainty is that the building has met the mandatory prerequisite for energy efficiency.
For LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance (LEED-EBOM), that prerequisite (Energy & Atmosphere Prerequisite 2, or EAp2) requires an ENERGY STAR score of at least 69 for buildings eligible to participate. This ensures that all buildings are satisfying base-level energy efficiency goals in addition to all of the other strategies and operational protocols implemented to improve environmental performance and human health.
Therein lies the dilemma.
For some buildings, achieving an ENERGY STAR score of 69 may require capital improvements that can be both disruptive and perceived to be costly. This demanding requirement represents a serious and sometimes fatal obstacle for some projects considering LEED – if the bottom rung on the ladder looks out of reach, there may be no way to even envision starting the climb.
Buildings with ENERGY STAR scores in the 50s and below are the lowest of the low-hanging fruit to curb building energy consumption, yet the same properties that could bring the most significant reductions in energy find themselves too far out of the race to even consider starting it.
An Alternative Approach on Energy
To address this catch-22, LEED introduced Pilot Credit 67, known as Energy Jumpstart. This alternative compliance path for meeting the minimum energy requirement under LEED-EBOM was designed specifically to motivate buildings with high energy intensity. It offers them the opportunity to participate in LEED if they make substantial energy efficiency improvements, even if their absolute performance falls short of the ENERGY STAR 69 prerequisite.
LEED certification has tremendous potential to help buildings reduce their carbon emissions, save energy, and reduce their operating costs. Energy Jumpstart acts as an on-ramp to help more projects realize these many benefits and can help spread out the cost of improving efficiency with the eventual goal of achieving the baseline ENERGY STAR score.
“When someone uses LEED, they’re not just improving their energy performance,” says Lauren Riggs, LEED manager at USGBC. “We also have other categories where we look at their location and the materials they’re using. So by getting more projects in the door using this on-ramp, we’ll be able to affect a larger range of sustainability outcomes.”
The alternative compliance path requires projects to achieve an energy improvement of 20% over a 12-month period, as compared to a three-year baseline. This qualifies the building for an initial certification at the Certified level.
However, because buildings must recertify every five years under EBOM, there is ample opportunity and significant motivation for buildings to achieve higher certification levels and additional reductions in energy use down the road.
USGBC is engaging in a pilot test of Energy Jumpstart to collect feedback, determine demand, and refine the technical requirements of the credit.
The goal of the pilot test is to ensure that the alternative compliance path is both technically rigorous and accomplishes the objective of motivating building owners to engage.
Project Seeing Success
One notable project that has implemented Energy Jumpstart is the EPB headquarters building in downtown Chattanooga, TN. EPB, a publically owned electric and broadband communications utility, opened the facility in 2006 and achieved certification under EBOM in June 2013.
According to Elizabeth Crenshaw Hammitt, EPB environmental coordinator and LEED Accredited Professional, the utility learned about Energy Jumpstart in 2011 at the Greenbuild conference and decided to pursue the pilot credit because, though it had worked for several years to improve its energy performance, it would not have been able to meet EAp2 otherwise.
“The EPB Downtown Building was designed for growth, has 24-hour operations in some places, and parts of the building are open to the public during both business and after hours,” Crenshaw Hammitt explains. “These factors make it difficult to measure the impact of our energy usage using only Portfolio Manager.”
To achieve the required 20% increase in efficiency, the company programmed most computers to automatically power down after 30 minutes of inactivity, optimized its air handling units’ performance, and installed lighting controls throughout the building.
Prior to its performance period, the company had also focused on occupant engagement for several years by starting a voluntary Green Team, through which technologies like plug load efficiency devices were tested before being fully rolled out to all employees.
“Educating the occupants about our efforts and asking them to be more conscious of their usage added to the success of the program, but prioritizing building system upgrades was an effective strategy for us,” Crenshaw Hammitt says.
Russell Unger, executive director of the Urban Green Council in New York City, considers Energy Jumpstart a particularly exciting opportunity for buildings willing to make a significant effort to get involved in LEED.
“Imagine two buildings of the same size and usage profiles. One has an ENERGY STAR score of 15, which improves to 55. The other starts at 80 and ends at 95,” Unger says. “The second building is exceptionally efficient. But the planet is far better off because of what the first building did, even if it ends up barely above average.”
For EPB, the benefits of involvement within LEED, beyond the company’s improvement in its energy efficiency, are myriad.
“We have realized a total project ROI of less than one year while making a substantial and diverse environmental impact and moving toward a culture of sustainability,” says Crenshaw Hammitt. “There are likely countless projects like ours that need flexibility to implement the dramatic changes that the LEED-EBOM system facilitates so well.”
Brendan Owens is the vice president for LEED Technical Development at the USGBC.