The Kansas City region has an opportunity to create local jobs, help protect our health and save money. How? By enacting a benchmarking ordinance that would measure energy usage of large buildings and report the findings.
First, a little background. More than half of carbon emissions in U.S. cities come from buildings. The average building wastes about 30 percent of the energy it consumes due to inefficiencies. The most important step toward remedying this situation is to require energy used in large buildings be measured. Such a step will provide building owners and tenants with “apples to apples” comparison of buildings and their energy use. Often, individuals and companies aren’t aware their buildings are inefficient.
Fortunately, there is an easy, free online benchmarking tool available, called Energy Star Portfolio Manager, that would help people accurately measure their energy use. Inputting the data into this tool is simple. In fact, many Kansas City area building owners and managers are already doing so. Portfolio Manager gives buildings a score that allows individuals and companies to see how efficient their building is. For instance, Kansas City’s City Hall has an Energy Star score of 92, meaning the building is more efficient than 91 percent of comparable buildings.
As a consumer, you can make an informed choice about the gas mileage of the car you drive or the ingredients of the food you eat. But, when it comes to buying or leasing space in a building, there is no such requirement in our metro. The evidence is clear that sharing these scores will help drive building improvements, cost savings and the demand for more energy efficient space.
Many cities are already requiring their building owners to do so. Minneapolis, Austin, Chicago and others see the value in providing the marketplace with current, accurate information about building energy performance.
The outcomes in those cities have been remarkable. Once made aware that their buildings are inefficient, property owners often take steps to reduce energy use. This leads to a more competitive building stock, with lower energy bills. In addition, utilizing lower energy helps the environment by reducing the amount of electricity derived from coal-fired power plants.
A proposed city ordinance being discussed would require owners of large, existing buildings to measure their energy use and share the results. There would be no requirement to retrofit the buildings. In fact, significant savings can be had with no capital investment. Just by running the building more efficiently, buildings could lower their energy bills.
For building owners who want to invest in energy efficiency, there is good news. The return on investment of energy retrofits continues to increase, meaning building owners can recoup their costs in only a few years. Lastly, that kind of work helps the local economy by providing jobs to electricians, carpenters, architects and engineers.
Mayor Sly James cited numerous policies and programs in his recent State of the City address that are creating new jobs, health and vitality for our community. To us this is a critical missing piece, and it’s a no brainer. Benchmarking buildings is the important first step to dramatically improve air quality, drive economic development and help our businesses save money simply by requiring the energy used in large buildings be measured.
Bob Berkebile is a principal of BNIM Architects and is co-chair of Kansas City’s Environmental Management Commission. Joanne Collins, a former City Council member, is chair of the city’s Climate Protection Steering Committee.