High-Performance Building Reports Call for Benchmarking, Education

 

July 2011

NSPE TODAY: POLICY PERSPECTIVES
High-Performance Building Reports Call for Benchmarking, Education

BY SARAH OGDEN

 

In Washington, D.C., American University's new School of International
In Washington, D.C., American University's new School of International
Service Building has a 27 kilowatt solar PV array and solar hot-water system, a 60,000 gallon rainwater collection and reuse system, LED lights in the parking garage, and green materials throughout the building.

The NSPE Code of Ethics states, "Engineers are encouraged to adhere to the principles of sustainable development in order to protect the environment for future generations." It was in this spirit that NSPE celebrated High-Performance Building Week in May. Sponsored by the High-Performance Congressional Caucus Coalition, of which NSPE is a member, the event featured congressional briefings, tours of green facilities, receptions, and education sessions designed to broaden awareness among policymakers about the importance of high-performance buildings.
 
Although high-performance buildings are finally on the radar thanks to energy efficiency as national security, the high-performance building industry also has the potential to fuel the lagging economy: A 2009 Booz Allen Hamilton study projected that green building will contribute an additional $554 billion to the GDP and create 7.9 million jobs through 2013.
 
Two organizations recently published reports on the high-performance building industry. The National Institute of Building Sciences released Moving Forward: Findings and Recommendations from the Consultative Council; and the Commercial Building Consortium, a public-private coalition that works with the Department of Energy on energy-efficient commercial building issues, released Analysis of Cost & Non-Cost Barriers and Policy Solutions for Commercial Buildings.
 
Both reports emphasize the need to consistently measure the performance of green buildings over time using a common set of standards and metrics, perhaps a not-so-subtle jab at the U.S. Energy Information Administration's recent decision to cease funding the Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey. (NIBS has announced that it will launch a High-Performance Building Data Collection Initiative to take the survey's place.) The NIBS report recommends adding benchmarking standards to the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007's (PL 110-140) definition of "high-performance building":
 
'High-performance building' means a building that integrates and optimizes on a life cycle basis all major high performance attributes, including energy conservation, environment, safety, security, durability, accessibility, cost-benefit, productivity, sustainability, functionality, and operation considerations. A building will have achieved optimization on a life-cycle basis when its measured results meet or improve upon legitimate benchmark standards that define high performance.
 
Both reports also discuss the critical role of education and training. The NIBS report recommends providing education and training to everyone who affects a building's performance during its lifecycle, from the building owner and users to the support contractors. The Commercial Building Consortium report recommends improving professional and technical training on energy-efficient design, auditing, retrofitting, commissioning, and operations. The NIBS report also recommends that professional and technical licensure and certification programs recognize the importance of sustainability expertise.
 
Additionally, the reports both discuss the need for energy-efficiency codes and standards. The NIBS report supports the development of codes and standards that would establish requirements for the safe use of alternate water sources and efficient outdoor irrigation practices. The CBC report recommends extending building energy codes and standards to cover end-use, emphasizing long-term performance. NIBS also recommends increasing federal, state, and local government agencies' participation in developing codes and standards to make adoption and enforcement more consistent. Neither report specifically mentions the International Green Construction Code, which is currently voluntary but will become mandatory upon its final publication in March 2012.
 
It will be interesting to see what, if any, policy results from these reports. Congressional High-Performance Buildings Caucus cochairs Russ Carnahan (D-MO) and Judy Biggert (R-IL) serve on the Transportation and Infrastructure and Science, Space, and Technology Committees, respectively.
 
One piece of high-performance building legislation that will see action this year concerns the Energy Efficient Commercial Buildings Deduction (Section 179D of the Internal Revenue Code), which expires at the end of 2011. The deduction is a cornerstone tax incentive for the green building industry that has been underutilized by small design firms due to its size and complexity. NSPE recently sent a joint letter with the American Institute of Architects to Senate Finance Committee leadership in support of strengthening and simplifying the deduction.

To read the NIBS report, visit www.nibs.org. To read the CBC report, visit www.zeroenergycbc.org.