Environmental Initiatives Reach Out to Existing Buildings

July 1, 2007
Existing buildings are under scrutiny as part of the solution to reduce real estate's greenhouse-gas emissions and dependence on fossil-fuel-based, nonrenewable sources of energy

New construction practices have recently entered the spotlight as municipalities and states grapple with how to make buildings of the future more reliant on sustainable technologies and building practices, and how to reduce carbon footprints. Now, existing buildings - including private-sector buildings - are under scrutiny and looked to as part of the solution to reduce real estate's greenhouse-gas emissions and dependence on fossil-fuel-based, nonrenewable sources of energy.

Concern for the environmental impact of global warming has driven an aggressive movement to curtail greenhouse gases, a movement that has already been endorsed by over 400 mayors in the United States who are now working to create green legislation calling for high-performance, sustainable buildings in the near term. The public sector is adopting stringent energy-efficiency standards and other standards, including a 50-percent reduction of energy use for new buildings and major renovations by 2010, with a goal of carbon-neutral buildings by 2030. These efforts are rapidly spreading from public buildings to new construction of privately owned buildings, and are now starting to reach private-sector existing buildings. The most common approach to legislating the existing buildings stock thus far has been enacting economic incentives for the incorporation of certain green design elements. For example, Seattle has incentives for incorporating the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification design standards.

It has been estimated that buildings account for nearly 40 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions (though they do not directly emit CO2); in mature cities such as New York, estimates approach 70 percent. These numbers illustrate exactly why the focus is now shifting to the existing-buildings arena and why policymakers are looking to us to be part of the solution.

On May 16, former President Bill Clinton announced that the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI) has created the Energy Efficiency Building Retrofit Program. The CCI is a project of the Clinton Foundation, an organization that is working to fight climate change in practical and measurable ways, aiming to implement programs that directly result in substantial reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide. The Energy Efficiency Building Retrofit Program brings together large energy-service companies, banks, and 15 of the world's largest cities in a program designed to reduce energy consumption in existing buildings. The program objective is to provide, for both municipal and private-sector buildings, access to the necessary funds to retrofit existing buildings with more energy-efficient products, with energy-savings goals targeted between 20 and 50 percent.

Participating energy-service companies will conduct energy audits, perform building retrofits, and guarantee the energy savings of the retrofit projects. Each of the participating banks has committed to arrange $1 billion each to finance cities and private building owners to undertake these retrofits at no net cost. Cities and building owners will pay back the loans plus interest with the energy savings generated by the reduced energy costs that result from the retrofits.

BOMA Intl. welcomes the introduction of innovative programs designed to increase voluntary energy conservation; however, the organization remains wary that the industry may one day be faced with onerous mandates - and the best measure of prevention that the commercial real estate industry can undertake is to demonstrate that mandates are unnecessary through widespread compliance with voluntary programs.

BOMA Intl. has been at the forefront in working with its membership to embrace green strategies as business strategies and green practices as best practices. Last year, BOMA launched the BOMA Energy Efficiency Program (BEEP), an innovative operational-excellence program that teaches commercial real estate professionals how to reduce energy consumption and costs with proven no- and low-cost strategies for optimizing equipment, people, and practices. The association's goal through BEEP is to drive energy usage down by 30 percent.

At BOMA's North American Commercial Real Estate Congress and The Office Building Show (July 21-24 in New York City), BOMA Intl. will announce its business plan, designed to transform the existing building stock in the United States to be dramatically more energy efficient, to produce significantly less greenhouse gases, and to be much more environmentally responsible. The press conference will be held on July 24 at Hearst Tower, the first building in Manhattan to achieve the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED Gold rating. The report will cover BOMA's role in the legislative, regulatory, and codes arenas; education and training; community building; and governance.

We all have an exciting opportunity to work together to implement environmentally responsible building operations and practices throughout existing building portfolios. And, BOMA adamantly believes that this can be done while increasing asset value and ROI. By embracing the concept of the triple bottom line (social, environmental, and financial), we will achieve significant energy savings and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

For more information on these and other issues, call BOMA Intl. at (202) 408-2662 or visit (www.boma.org).

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