The ABCs of Building Energy Efficiency

Which Building Certification is Right for You?
Jul 31, 2014 12:40 PM ET



The number of certifications for energy efficiency, as well as the organizations that can help guide you, can make your head swim.

Does the EPA have anything to do with LEED? Can the USGBC help me with my DOE?

It can be quite confusing, for sure.

One thing we all know is that greater energy efficiency positively impacts a company’s bottom line and can even contribute to topline growth as more consumers seek out environmentally responsible businesses. Not to mention more efficiency means less carbon that contributes to climate change.

Here we break down three certifications, noting how – and when – they can help you.

1. LEED. One of the more well-known certifications, you may have seen a LEED plaque on a  skyscraper or car dealership. What does it mean? The company or individual incorporated environmentally responsible building practices throughout the construction or renovation to lessen its impact on the environment for the long run. The U.S. Green Building Council offers many resources to guide you through it, offering different levels of certifications to meet your needs.

2. ENERGY STAR®. If you’re like 87 percent of households in America, you know the ENERGY STAR label when you see it. But did you know that it’s not just found on refrigerators and dishwashers? Commercial buildings and industrial plants in the U.S. can earn ENERGY STAR certification by meeting energy performance standards defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The benefit? Pursuing ENERGY STAR certification creates networking opportunities among companies where they can share best practices, with EPA facilitating these communications. Furthermore, these sites use less energy, are less expensive to operate and have comparatively fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

3. ISO 50001. Developed by the International Organization for Standardization, the ISO50001 provides organizations big and small with the requirements for the continuous improvement of an energy management system. With ISO, there are no fixed targets for improving energy performance – benchmarks are set by the user organization or regulatory authorities. If your company has met other standards set by ISO, obtaining ISO 500001 usually only requires a few more steps. By establishing frameworks for organizations across many sectors, it is estimated that ISO standards could influence up to 60 percent of the world’s energy use.

There are also several challenges that inspire companies to continue their aggressive greenhouse gas reductions.

1. ENERGY STAR® Challenge for Industry. There’s another opportunity within the ENERGY STAR program if your site is industrial (think manufacturing, mining, etc.).  The Challenge for Industry helps energy managers set goals to improve energy performance. You meet the challenge if your site reduces energy intensity by 10 percent in five years or less. What’s more, you can reapply and be recognized each time your site achieves another 10 percent reduction. Put simply, if you meet the goal, you meet the challenge. Recognition includes a profile on the ENERGY STAR website and a certificate documenting your savings.

2. Better Buildings, Better Plants Challenge. By joining this U.S. Department of Energy challenge, a company pledges to reduce energy intensity by 25 percent over the next 10 years. Any company in the U.S. manufacturing sector, regardless of size or level of energy management expertise, is eligible for partnership. This challenge is beneficial if you’re looking not only for recognition, but also technical support. Participants receive resources such as a technical account manager, in-plant training sessions for employees and invited guests, and software tools for metrics and development.

3. ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year. As the EPA’s highest honor for corporate energy management, this distinction recognizes organizations from ENERGY STAR’s 20,000 partners who have made outstanding contributions to protecting the environment through superior energy efficiency. Awards are given in several categories to companies across various industries. Organizations go through a stringent application process to be considered. For example, the Energy Management category honors companies who adopt a continuous energy management strategy across their entire portfolio.

There you have it: three certifications and three types of recognition that not only highlight the energy efficiency of your company, but provide you with resources and best practices to help you do it.