By Anne Cosgrove
Published in the April 2008 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
This past February, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a recordbreaking year for facilities earning its Energy Star rating. The number of commercial buildings and manufacturing plants to earn the Energy Star for superior energy efficiency was up by more than 25% during 2007 (with 1,400 added during that year), and the amount of carbon dioxide emissions reduced has reached an all-time high of more than 25 billion pounds.
At the time of this announcement, Robert J. Meyers, principal deputy assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air & Radiation, said, “From a historic office tower in the Big Apple to a small manufacturing plant in America’s heartland, EPA is pleased to see so many organizations offering high efficiency Energy Star buildings and facilities.”
Since EPA launched its Energy Star program for buildings in 1999, nearly 4,100 facilities in 11 space types (e.g. office, hospital) have earned the designation. These include approximately 1,500 office buildings, 1,300 supermarkets, 820 K-12 schools, and 250 hotels. Also, more than 185 banks, financial centers, hospitals, courthouses, warehouses, dormitories, and big box retail buildings have earned the Energy Star. The total also includes more than 30 manufacturing plants.
Commenting on the significant activity during 2007, Maura Beard, director, strategic communications, Energy Star commercial and industrial buildings at EPA, says, “It is our experience that labeling activity is often driven by a collection of factors that taken together result in benchmarking energy performance and earning the Energy Star, rather than a single factor alone.
“These factors,” she continues, “include an organization wide commitment to superior energy management; the increasing number of state and local energy efficiency programs; growing consumer demand for environmentally responsible companies; and corporate interest in climate risk management as an important business strategy.”
Another milestone for the program in 2007 was that, for the first time, a big box retail store was designated with Energy Star. In Washington State, four JCPenney stores earned the recognition, and EPA reports those facilities are collectively saving nearly $250,000 per year on energy and are avoiding three million pounds of carbon dioxide on an annual basis.
According to EPA, commercial buildings that have earned the Energy Star use nearly 40% less energy than average buildings and emit 35% less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
To qualify for the Energy Star, a facility must score in the top 25% using EPA’s National Energy Performance Rating System. The System is an external benchmark that helps managers assess how efficiently their buildings use energy relative to similar buildings nationwide. The rating system’s scale of one to 100 is designed to allow all involved parties to recognize how a building is performing.
EPA, in conjunction with stakeholders, developed the energy rating as a screening tool; it does not by itself explain why a building performs a certain way or how to change the building’s performance. It does, however, help organizations assess performance and identify those buildings that offer the best opportunities for improvement and recognition.
The rating is based on the information entered about a building, such as its size, location, and number of occupants. The rating system estimates how much energy the building would use if it were the best performing, the worst performing, and each level in between. The system then compares the actual energy data entered compared to the estimate to determine where the building ranks relative to its peers.
All of the calculations are based on source energy. This is because the use of source energy is the most equitable way to compare building performance; it also correlates best with environmental impact and energy cost.
Beard explains that there are three main steps that must be taken when pursuing Energy Star: using Portfolio Manager to rate the performance of the building; verifying the indoor environment of the building by a licensed professional engineer; and sending the verified Statement of Energy Performance and a letter of agreement to EPA.
“The time it takes to complete these three steps varies from organization to organization,” says Beard. “It also depends on several factors, including the availability of historical energy data and basic information on building operating characteristics; how quickly the organization generates the Statement of Energy Performance from Portfolio Manager and is verified by a Professional Engineer; and how long it takes for the organization to submit the paperwork to EPA.”
“Depending on individual circumstances and internal processes, our experience is that the process of applying for the Energy Star can take anywhere from several weeks to a month or two,” she adds.
In order to continue down the Energy Star path those 1,400 facilities that joined the ranks in 2007 will need to resubmit data once a year has passed. “A building that has earned the Energy Star becomes eligible to reapply one year after the last energy data included in the Statement of Energy Performance submitted as part of the previous year’s application,” says Beard.
More than ever, energy efficiency is at the forefront of many facility managers’ minds. Pursuing Energy Star certification can be one way for them to determine where their facilities rate on the continuum and to then make improvements.
Research for this article included information provided by Beard. More information on applying for the Energy Star can be found at www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=evaluate_performance.bus_portfoliomanager_intro.