Quick: what’s the biggest source of carbon emissions in America? You might say cars & trucks, fossil fuel power plants, or maybe even garbage incinerators (yeah, can you believe we still have those?). Those are all good guesses, but not exactly correct. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in most cities, commercial buildings are the largest source of carbon emissions.
These buildings could be 30 stories high, or just two, but in most cases they contain hundreds of lights, computers, printers, televisions, HVAC systems, and other energy-sucking equipment that are almost never turned off. This wasteful energy consumption is not only bad for the environment, it’s also terrible for the businesses that call these buildings home, and eventually translates to a negative effect on the economy.
As usual, understanding the relationship between wasted energy and wasted profit has made an impact on commercial building owners and their occupants. Since 1999, more than 23,000 commercial buildings have earned EPA’s Energy Star—a sign that they meet the programs strict energy efficiency requirements. In doing so, building operators have saved more than $3.1 billion on utility bills and prevented greenhouse gas emissions equal to the annual electricity use from 2.2 million homes.
They’re certainly not tearing down the old buildings and constructing new, green ones. So how exactly have America’s commercial buildings achieved this milestone? According to the EPA, affordable LED lighting upgrades, green roof installations, and automated systems for tracking and adjusting energy consumption have played major roles.
Interestingly, these are many of the same things we can each do to reduce our personal energy consumption: changing to more efficient light bulbs, doing what we can to reduce heat retention in summer and keep warm air inside during winter, and using programmable thermostats and other technology to make sure we’re not using energy unless it’s absolutely needed.
One thing that’s been especially helpful for our household is to take a peek at energy usage charts included in our electronic utility bill. This information (available from many power companies) shows us how much energy we’re using compared to the same time last year, as well as in comparison to our neighbors. It’s weird, but seeing that we’re using less than our neighbors (or even ourselves!) is a big motivator to repeat the same thing next month.
But I digress: for now we’re talking about commercial buildings. To celebrate achievements in the ongoing quest for greater efficiency, the EPA recently ranked U.S. cities according to how many green buildings they contained. Below is the list for 2014. Is your city one of the greenest?
More about the rankings:
On average, commercial buildings that have earned EPA’s Energy Star use 35 percent less energy and cause 35 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than their peers. Certification is awarded based on a single year of actual, measured energy performance and is only valid for 12 months. Want to see your building (or city) on this list? Check out the resources below.
Image via Thinkstock