By Guest Columnist MICHAEL NARK, CEO of Atlanta-based Prenova, a privately held enterprise energy management company

Have you heard of the Better Buildings Challenge? It’s a national campaign that was launched by President Obama in February to improve energy efficiency in commercial buildings.

The goal is to increase energy efficiency in commercial buildings by 20 percent by 2020 through issuing a series of incentives for upgrading offices. President Obama believes this initiative will create jobs, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and make our air cleaner. But perhaps most importantly for the business sector, it will save money – an estimated $40 billion annually in energy costs.

Atlanta was actually chosen as one of three first major metropolitan community partners in the Better Buildings Challenge, along with Seattle and Los Angeles.

The goal of the challenge that’s just beginning in Atlanta is to reduce energy and water consumption by at least 20 percent in participating buildings across Atlanta by 2020, with a primary focus on the city’s downtown business district.

Michael Nark

Participating in this challenge would create a healthier environment and more sustainable operations. However to motivate the private sector to participate, emphasis must be placed on the twin points of the potential for landlords and tenants to save significant amounts of money through lower utility costs, and the fact that improving energy efficiency is an easily achievable goal that will not require an expensive capital investment.

Exploring ways to control energy spend should be at the top of every executive’s list. After all, energy accounts for over 30 percent of the cost to operate a typical office building.

What many may not know is that it doesn’t take a large upfront capital investment to achieve a significant decrease in energy consumption and savings on energy bills. There are several simple inexpensive action steps that if a company can implement to decrease their energy consumption andsee energy savings.

Here are a few easy steps that both tenants and landlords can employ to reduce their use of energy:

1. Understand how much energy you use. You can’t track what you can’t measure, so the first step is simply to understand how much energy you use relative to your peers. The U.S. Department of Energy’s ENERGY STAR website offers a free tool called Portfolio Manager to help organizations track and assess their energy consumption. Portfolio Manager rates facilities based on their energy intensity, a measure of kilowatt hours used per square foot per year. Your company’s rating will tell you whether you’re being energy efficient or still have some work to do.

2. Carefully review every utility bill. This step is often overlooked, particularly in organizations with multiple facilities and/or overworked accounting departments. While most bills are accurate, errors do occur. Prenova recovers millions of dollars every year on behalf of clients who have been overbilled.

3. Effective Internal Communication. You need to help others in your organization understand how simple behaviors contribute to excess energy use. These include basic things like leaving office lights on all night and setting thermostats too low in the summer or too high in the winter. Prenova’s experience demonstrates that carefully managing temperature set points and lighting schedules can reduce overall energy consumption by 15 to 20 percent.

4. Other obvious behaviors to encourage include closing office blinds during the heat of the day and always using revolving doors, if your building is equipped with them. A team of MIT researchers found that routine use of standard swing doors increased energy usage by about 1.5 percent. While that might not sound like much, it means using revolving doors exclusively could save over $7,000 per year, even with Georgia’s comparatively low electricity rates.

The Better Buildings Challenge offers incentives for businesses to invest in energy efficient technologies like advanced lighting systems and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air condition) upgrades. However, for those companies that don’t have the budget for those type investments, the steps outlined above are among the many an organization can take without spending a dime.

Atlanta officially kicked off its Better Buildings Challenge initiative on Nov. 3, at the annual Downtown Development Day hosted by Central Atlanta Progress. Mayor Kasim Reed, together with Michelle Moore of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress (CAP), and other leading business and community organizations joined in the event.

If Atlanta businesses step up to the Better Buildings Challenge just by implementing these simple steps, then we will not only easily meet the goal of improving energy efficiency by 20 percent, but more importantly, we will also have a healthier environment and economy.

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