Efficient Building Operations At Heart Of Government Efforts To Combat Climate Change

One thing that President Obama can’t claim a mandate for is action on climate change. Obama never made the topic a high-enough profile issue in his re-election campaign to claim broad popular support for his ideas on climate change.

But the push for U.S. action on climate change is far from dead. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, New York City’s Independent mayor, Michael Bloomberg, cited the importance of addressing climate change in endorsing Obama for a second term. And a week after the election, the California cap and trade initiative — the world’s second largest, after the European Union’s program — went live.

These day, the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is a bottom-up affair, rather than a top-down federal initiative. One example is the energy-benchmarking programs that have sprung up — under the aegis of climate action plans — in cities like New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., as well as in the state of Washington. These programs are based on Energy Star's widely used Portfolio Manager tool.

Another example is the U.S. Green Building Council’s slow but steady progress in raising the bar for energy efficiency for certified buildings, and in connecting certification for new buildings more closely to energy performance. LEED is a good example of the old saying, nothing succeeds like success. The more buildings that have LEED certification, the more that other organizations want to get their buildings certified. The result is likely to be growing influence for LEED efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

The key for both LEED and the energy-benchmarking programs is to focus on actual energy use in operating buildings. Getting serious about energy performance takes more than designing and upgrading buildings for efficiency. It takes starting with the end in mind. The real question is this: What does it take to make a specific building operate more efficiently? Facility managers who start looking for answers to that question may find it leads to a great career opportunity, as this month’s cover story shows.