Those Crazy Energy Star Liberals! Yay!, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from tom.arthur’s photostream

The energy used by buildings to keep our offices, stores, homes, and stadiums heated in the winter, cooled in the summer, and lighted all year round represents a significant portion of the total energy used every year. It also represents a lot of greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere and a lot of money wasted on inefficiencies. Cities around the country have started to look more closely at how large buildings use energy, and through this process of examining usage they have been able to take concrete steps to make buildings more efficient and save energy and money. Through partnerships with the federal government, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and organizations like Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future and the Green Building Alliance, we can create a program to help building owners and managers track their energy use and make adjustments to save them energy and money.

1. Driving Energy Use Down and Property Values Up

Energy benchmarking has been used successfully by the federal government, several states, and cities from Seattle to Philadelphia to New York to drive energy efficiency upgrades led by the private sector with some financial support from the public sector in the form of grants, loans, and tax credits. In some very dense cities like New York, energy use from buildings can make up more than 50% of the total energy used, but even in smaller cities like Pittsburgh the percentage is substantial. It is in everyone’s best interest to find ways to more efficiently power the places where we live, work, and play.

To help make it easier for cities and private businesses to monitor their energy use, The United States Environmental Protection Agency has developed a user-friendly online tool called Portfolio Manager that allows a building manager or sustainability coordinator to enter information about electricity use, water consumption, and other forms of energy use. Portfolio Manager compiles the information in an easily usable way and helps track usage over time, set goals for use reductions, and compare use with similar buildings across the country.

Real estate trends nationwide have shown that the more energy efficient a building is, the higher it’s commercial rents and property values. People want to live and work in high-quality, efficient buildings that are designed to make the most of natural light and natural heating and cooling methods from greenroofs to passive solar designs.

Pittsburgh should lead by example and begin benchmarking our municipal buildings’ energy usage. Then the city should start working with partners in the nonprofit and private sectors to pioneer a comprehensive program to drive down energy usage and drive up property values across the city.