Using Energy Efficiency to Create a More Sustainable Bottom Line

By Wagner, Danielle Miller | Public Management, October 2007 | Go to article overview

Using Energy Efficiency to Create a More Sustainable Bottom Line


Wagner, Danielle Miller, Public Management


In May 2007, ICMA conducted an informal survey of its members to determine what local governments are doing to address the issue of climate change. The survey included a number of questions about energy efficiency, the most telling of which was that 82 percent of respondents expressed a need for information on increasing energy efficiency in local government buildings. In response to this request for information, ICMA researched energy efficiency practices in a number of local governments.

The built environment--commercial, industrial, and residential buildings--is responsible for 48 percent of all energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration and Architecture 2030, a nonprofit organization founded to respond to global warming. An obvious starting point for local governments' energy efficiency efforts is their own buildings. In most cases, these buildings include office buildings and police and fire stations. In some cases, the local government also has responsibility for schools and locally owned utilities.

THREE STEPS

Reducing energy consumption is a three-step process. Step one strives to reduce energy use through such no-cost changes as reprogramming sleep modes on computers, setting policies for employees to turn off computers and lights at the end of each workday, and operating heating and cooling systems to run more efficiently.

The second step picks off the low-hanging fruit that require only limited investment and that can usually be completed by facilities staff. These include changing from incandescent to high-efficiency lightbulbs in all facilities, street lighting, and traffic lights; using sensors to activate lighting; and upgrading leaky windows to double-paned energy efficient models.

Step three requires investments such as replacing HVAC equipment with high-efficiency equipment and establishing green roofs. Finally, if local objectives include not only saving money and reducing energy demand but also reducing greenhouse gas emissions, then managers also pursue the important fourth step of meeting remaining energy needs through renewable energy to the maximum extent possible.

There is a range of building standards to which existing buildings can be retrofitted as well as standards for new buildings. The best-known standard for "green" buildings is the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) ENERGY STAR program offers a national energy performance rating system, which is based on actual energy consumption of a particular building as compared with other comparable building types. The Green Building Initiative (GBI), also known as Green Globes, offers its own green building label and is pilot testing a new standard for existing commercial buildings.

Each program of building standards has different programmatic criteria, and in some cases not all of the criteria are specifically designed to achieve energy savings. With this in mind, it might be necessary to pick and choose the elements most closely aligned with your locality's energy-saving goals. In addition to the guidance, direction, and, in some cases, technical assistance to achieve energy savings, another welcome by-product of the rating systems is the recognition that comes with being able to publicly proclaim that a building meets certain recognized standards.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA

As the home of the University of Virginia, the city of Charlottesville, Virginia, has long been known for both history and innovation. An independent city in the center of Virginia, Charlottesville has a population of just more than 40,000. According to City Manager Gary O'Connell, "Our city is working towards our vision of being a green city in many and varied ways. We are working on new approaches to emphasize a change in our city's thinking about the impacts we have on the environment that surrounds us. …

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Using Energy Efficiency to Create a More Sustainable Bottom Line
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