Worldwide, the total square footage of green buildings (defined here as LEED certified buildings) is doubling every year, and 85 countries now have their own green building standards. But are we doing enough to harness the overwhelming benefits that come from boosting energy efficiency in buildings?
On January 25, Greg Kats, President of Capital E and the author of Greening Our Built World, presented on “Sustainable Solutions for the Planet’s Energy Challenge” as part of a new series from the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program. In his talk, he discussed the many ways we can move sustainability forward in three target areas: transportation, industry, and building efficiency, which account for 28 percent, 26 percent, and 40 percent of U.S. energy use, respectively.
Among the obvious solutions to promoting a more sustainable economy, Kats noted, are increasing the production tax credit for renewable energy, pumping more money into energy efficiency financing, and incorporating more renewable energy into building and city designs. He pointed to positive patterns already emerging in the field of low-carbon technology: solar photovoltaic technology, for example, has seen an 80 percent price reduction in just four to five years. Similarly, the price of a plug-in hybrid vehicle is now near that of a non-hybrid in a similar class.
The benefits of building green
Although such trends are promising at a time when we are increasingly looking to harness domestic energy sources, the most striking angle of Kats’s argument was the need to focus on building efficiency. Obviously, energy-efficient buildings are attractive to those concerned with reducing our energy use and excessive reliance on fossil fuels. But there are additional benefits to developers, owners, and tenants that receive less public attention.