Every decently sized company with a PR team can claim to be going green these days. But how do you separate those who simply hang out an Earth Flag once a year to those who make real commitments in their daily activities? One good way is by looking at their physical facilities, since commercial and industrial buildings in the U.S. are responsible for about 45% of the country's greenhouse gas emissions and 50% of energy use.
America's 4.8 million commercial buildings and 350,000 industrial facilities expend $107.9 billion and $94.4 billion a year on energy costs, according to the EPA's Energy Star program. Yet an estimated 30% of that cost enormous as it is is actually wasted due to inefficient technologies. What's more, according to Energy Star, if the energy efficiency of our commercial and industrial buildings was boosted by an attainable 10% across the board, that would result in reduction of greenhouse gases equivalent to taking 30 million vehicles off our roads (or about as many cars and trucks as are registered in Illinois, New York, Texas and Ohio combined).
How do you make sure a green building is really greener? One convenient way is third party certification. The gold standard has been the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program from the U.S. Green Building Council. Another one increasingly gaining familiarity is the EPA's Energy Star label program, which was extended from appliances and electronics to whole structures fairly recently.
According to the EPA, the number of Energy Star-qualified buildings across the U.S. has soared by more than 130% from 2007. What does that really mean? Energy Star buildings use 35% less energy than average buildings and emit 35% less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Of course, it is important to remember that energy use and emissions are not the only factors to consider when asking if a building is green. There are also issues of indoor air quality, water conservation, recycled content, habitat protection, access to transportation, support for bicycles and hybrid vehicles, and impact on local wildlife (no glass walls of death!). Still, energy use is a major consideration.
In 2008, more than 3,300 commercial buildings and manufacturing plants earned Energy Star. These structures saved more than $1.1 billion in energy costs and reduced more than 7 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2008 -- equal to the emissions created in powering more than 1 million homes for a year. There are now more than 6,200 Energy Star-qualified buildings and plants throughout the U.S., which have saved $1.7 billion in energy costs and reduced more than 13 million metric tons in greenhouse gas emissions annually, equivalent to the emissions associated with the electricity use of more than 1.8 million homes a year.
The top ten city rankings based on the number of Energy Star-qualified buildings in 2008 are:
1) Los Angeles, CA
2) San Francisco, CA
3) Houston, TX
4) Washington D.C.
5) Dallas-Fort Worth, TX
6) Chicago, IL
7) Denver, CO
8) Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN
9) Atlanta, GA
10) Seattle, WA
As expected, the trends roughly follow population patterns, since this list made no attempt to measure per capita listings. However, it is still instructive. For one thing, where is New York? It's no surprise perhaps that California is well represented, but it may be news to some that Texas towns rate so highly -- particularly Houston, the seat of the oil industry. Northerners aren't doing as well as some might think, especially major cities like Philadelphia, Boston and Baltimore.
Perhaps no one is surprised that Detroit isn't a big winner, given the region's continual decline, and high anxiety in the auto industry (though efficiency is a good way to reduce costs, and save money and jobs, over time).For comparison's sake, here's a list of U.S. cities purely by population size, as found on wikipedia:
1) New York City, New York 8,274,527
2) Los Angeles, California 3,834,340
3) Chicago, Illinois 2,836,658
4) Houston, Texas 2,208,180
5) Phoenix, Arizona 1,552,259
6) Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1,449,634
7) San Antonio, Texas 1,328,984
8) San Diego, California 1,266,731
9) Dallas, Texas 1,240,499
10) San Jose, California 939,899
For a complete list of Energy Star Qualified Buildings, please visit energystar.gov/buildinglist.
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