New Study Shows Energy-Efficient Construction is Key to Green Building Growth

According to a recently released study from McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm that works to help organizations address their strategic challenges, investing in the energy efficiency of buildings, such as high-performance glass and window materials, represents a powerful and strategic energy and climate solution that combined with other non-transportation initiatives could reduce the nation’s energy consumption by 23 percent by 2020, save the U.S. economy $1.2 trillion and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1.1 gigatons annually. Titled, “Unlocking Energy Efficiency in Today’s Economy,” the study examines different means by which the United States could realize greater energy efficiency in several areas-including commercial construction.

According to the study, “the commercial sector will consume 20 percent of the 2020 baseline end-use energy [and] consumption is forecast to grow by 1.5 percent per year from a baseline of 6.7 quadrillion BTUs of end-use energy in 2008 …” In researching the commercial sector, the study looks at ten building types: Office; retail; education; lodging; healthcare; assembly; food service; warehouse; food sales; and other. These were then organized into five clusters based on shared barriers and attributes [to energy efficiencies]: Existing private buildings; government buildings; new private buildings; office and non-commercial devices; and community infrastructure.

Looking at existing private buildings specifically, the study says these structures will likely account for 2,866 trillion end-use BTUs of energy consumption by 2020. Of the barriers to greater energy efficiency in this segment, the study lists one as being “lack of awareness or information.”

“Many facility managers are unaware of the energy efficiency potential with the belief that the building is already energy-efficient. Furthermore, they often possess limited knowledge of energy-efficiency measures and ways to deploy them within their facilities, including the critical role that proper design and installation play in capturing savings,” the study says.

Creating value with voluntary standards is one solution the study offers for overcoming such barriers.

“Buildings meeting an efficiency standard show a 6-percnet premium in effective rent and a 16-percnent premium in valuation over similar non-energy efficient buildings. The benefits provided by adherence to a voluntary standard, applied to both buildings and commercial equipment, could help manage agency issues by offering financial returns for investments through increased rent and raising awareness of the benefits of efficient buildings.”

In the privately owned new buildings segment, the study cites ineffective installation and lack of commissioning as barriers.

“Developers have little incentive to ensure that contractors install equipment optimally or commission buildings properly,” the study reads. “As a result, some buildings perform below the levels called for in building codes: research has found that as many as 20 – 30 percent of buildings designed to meet the ASHRAE 1999 standard did not meet the building shell and lighting requirements.”

The study suggests mandatory building codes as a solution strategy.

“Only two states have adopted the latest commercial building code, while 13 states have either not adopted a statewide code or continue to use codes that are more than three years old. The 2007 ASHRAE standard represents a 32-percent efficiency improvement over the 1980 level. States adopting the most recent ASHRAE standard, 90.1-2007, would reduce energy consumption in new buildings by 11 percent relative to the current code levels.”