The London Olympics may be over, but a national contest among buildings in the U.S. has just kicked off.
The third annual Energy Star National Building Competition (NBC), sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has attracted nearly 3,300 competitors this year — including 223 buildings in New York and New Jersey. Through April 2013, these buildings will be battling the scale and each other as they contend for the prize of the country’s “biggest energy loser,” meaning, which building can cut the most energy waste?
Last year, the first prize winner was a humble parking garage at the University of Central Florida, which reduced its annual energy use by 63.2 percent and saved $34,907 in utility costs. The rest of the top ten included educational institutions, office buildings, a career center and a retail store.
This year’s participants are even more diverse, especially in the New York–New Jersey region. By the number of properties they’ve entered into the contest, major area competitors include realty company Vornado, senior-care facilities Brookdale and Sunrise, the Bloomfield Public School District, the U.S. General Services Administration, furniture store Raymour & Flanigan, and Webster Bank.
Sunrise Senior Living, a national senior service organization headquartered in Virginia, is an outstanding competitor in the senior-care facility category. After earning Energy Star certification for 30 of its communities in 2011 — the first in its field to get the certification — the organization took its efforts a step further this year. It registered 254 community buildings in the contest, 41 of which are in New York and New Jersey.
“Sunrise is not only committed to championing quality of life for seniors, but embraces environmental stewardship as well,” said Katherine Preede, the company’s spokesperson.
In order to make sure the facilities are working under the most energy-efficient conditions, Preede said, the company has set up a series of strict and specific rules in its kitchen and laundry operations. It requires employees to wash dishes and clothing in full loads only, as well as maintain standard temperatures, to save on cost and energy consumption. Meanwhile, it regularly cleans dryer ducts and lint screens to optimize dryer efficiency, and sets drying times as short as possible to conserve the energy cost.
Also going green is Webster Bank, with 169 branches throughout East Coast and eight in Westchester County, New York. Although it didn’t enter the NBC competition until mid-July, the company had already been taking steps in reducing water consumption by installing aerators on fixtures, and by saving on electricity and gas through its Heating Ventilation Air Conditioning [HVAC] and lighting choices.
Webster is expecting to save 30 percent of its entire energy consumption by 2015. While battling for the 2012 Energy Star award, the company has launched its own contest, offering prized worth $12,000 to encourage customers to get bank statements online, instead of paper, as a part of its “Going Green” initiative.
“Our customers are right there with us by going paperless more and more, utilizing mobile devices and banking electronically,” said Webster’s spokesperson Sarah Barr, describing the company’s effort in energy efficiency as “off to a solid start.” Speaking of public perception of their environmental efforts, she added, “we are seen as investing wisely, and that’s a good thing when you are a bank.”
Operating sustainably has become a competitive imperative for companies as it has significant potential to reduce product and service costs, and provides real cash returns, said Barbara Close, the founder of Princeton Sustainability Advisors L.L.C., a sustainability strategy consultancy based in Princeton, N.J.
“Where positive press was sufficient inspiration for companies to ‘go green’ several years ago, we are now in the era of Sustainability 3.0.,” said Close, suggesting that environmental responsibility used to be a feel-good strategy to target environmentally conscious customers. “Companies lose ground to competitors if they are not shrinking their environmental impact, and water down their competitiveness if they are not leveraging the cost savings.”
In addition to the increasing diversity in building participants, the EPA has also attracted significantly more participants through increased media coverage. In 2010, when the NBC was first launched, only 14 buildings participated. But at its second year, the number of competitors jumped to 245, saving a total of $5.2 million on the utility bills and preventing nearly 30,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually — equal to the emission from the electricity used by more than 3,600 homes a year.
“We like the diversity in our competition, which means all types of buildings are benchmarking their energy efficiency and every building can use our [energy consumption analysis] tools,” said Juan Gutierrez, Energy Star coordinator for the New York-New Jersey region.
In response to an increased focus on operational sustainability within small to mid-size businesses in New York and New Jersey, Close is spearheading a “sustainability circles” program within the area for True Market Solutions, a sustainability company based in California.
In the U.S., the operation and maintenance of buildings are responsible for 65 percent of electricity usage and 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, according to EPA. In New York City, the consumption is even greater, with buildings contributing to 75 percent of the city’s overall carbon emission annually.
The city has set a goal to reduce citywide greenhouse emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 — part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s massive PlaNYC initiative — and has begun tracking or “benchmarking” buildings’ energy consumption under a 2009 law.
This month, the PlaNYC project released its first benchmarking report for the city’s large private sector buildings, estimating that if poor performers improved efficiency and reached just a median level of energy use in their category, it could translate into a citywide energy and carbon emission reduction of 18 and 20 percent, respectively.
The report also indicates that New York City is performing significantly better than the national average as a whole with a median score of 64 out of 100. Although full scores for the city’s individual non-residential buildings, calculated by the Energy Star program, will not be published next month, the August report revealed some noteworthy facts based on the benchmarking data:
- The city’s old buildings, dating back to the early 1900s, tend to use less energy per square foot than newer ones. Each 20-year group uses more than the prior group.
- Smaller office buildings tend to be more energy efficient than larger ones, and smaller residential buildings tend to conserve more energy.
- Although only 2 percent of the city’s one million buildings are over 50,000 square feet or are multi-building properties with a total of 100,000 square feet, they account for half of the energy used by New York buildings.
- Neighborhoods with more less-efficient buildings have higher asthma rates in general.