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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Jul/Aug 2001 : Innovation

A Wealth of Savings

A new partnership aims to help ease the nation's energy crunch.

Recognizing that the 4.5 million existing buildings in the U.S. can achieve a 20- to 30-percent reduction in energy use, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) jointly announced a partnership between Energy Star® and LEED™ to help ease the nation’s energy crunch. LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is the USGBC’s sustainable building rating system for certifying green design and construction in new buildings, which has already been adopted by a large number of private and public concerns for new construction projects. During the past year, the USGBC has been developing green building standards for existing-building upgrades and operations.

According to the Madison, WI-based Leonardo Academy, using data from the DOE Energy Information Agency, annual electrical demand in all existing buildings could be potentially reduced by nearly 45 gigawatts and save some $21 billion a year in energy costs if all commercial buildings were made more efficient. That amounts to eliminating the need to build 85 500-MW power plants. It also translates into reducing CO2 emissions by more than 275 million tons annually. That does not include efficiencies that can be realized in homes and other residential buildings. LEED for existing buildings incorporates many specifications set by the Energy Star program sponsored by the EPA and the DOE. Energy Star recognizes buildings that are in the top 25 percent of the market for energy performance.

“When it comes to measuring performance of energy use in buildings, Energy Star sets the bar,” said Steven Winter, chairman of the USGBC’s board of directors and president of Steven Winter Associates, Inc. “LEED draws upon national and regional standards for site development, water use, energy use, materials and indoor environmental quality. Based on EPA and DOE success in helping buildings improve their energy performance, it only made sense to build the widely-used Energy Star specifications into our rating system. Not only do building owners and occupants benefit from reduced energy bills, but they get all the advantages of a superior office environment and public recognition for their leadership.”

“About 71 percent of non-residential, existing buildings are 20 years or older,” said Jean Lupinacci, director of the commercial and industrial branch of Energy Star. “We know there is a wealth of energy savings and thereby reduced emissions that can be realized from existing buildings. Partners in the EPA’s Energy Star program average 30 to 40 percent return on investment to retrofit older buildings with high-efficiency lighting, for example. LEED for existing buildings is an important tool for helping to upgrade and operate buildings at their highest levels of environmental performance. At the EPA, we’re pleased to participate in the development of this version of the USGBC’s rating system because both LEED and Energy Star are voluntary programs that are transforming the building industry.”

LEED for existing buildings is a set of sustainable standards based on whole-building performance for operating and/or retrofitting commercial and institutional facilities. Included are standards for making green improvements to building core, shell and roof systems; central mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems; and building operations practices by both occupants and owners. The comprehensive green building rating system addresses cleaning and maintenance practices, indoor air quality, energy and water performance and ongoing monitoring, measurement and management of all building systems. Also, LEED for existing buildings will help enhance building and occupant recycling programs and supporting facilities.

Development of LEED for existing buildings follows a similar path set by the USGBC when it developed LEED for new construction. The first draft of the standards has been prepared and is being reviewed by an advisory group of experts, including the EPA and DOE. It will be piloted in about 50 building projects. A second draft with input from the pilots and experts will then go to the USGBC membership for balloting by consensus. Official launch date of a fully-approved version is anticipated for 2003. LEED for existing buildings is part of the family of LEED rating systems in development by the USGBC, which includes LEED for commercial interiors and LEED for residential construction. The USGBC also offers LEED training, resource tools and professional accreditation. An updated version of LEED for new construction, LEED 3.0, is currently being developed and is due for release in 2003.

Announcement of LEED for existing buildings was made at the 12th Annual Energy Efficiency Forum at the National Press Club, sponsored by the U.S. Energy Association and Johnson Controls, Inc. With some 800 business and organizational members, the USGBC is a nonprofit, consensus-based coalition representing the entire building industry. For more information on LEED and the USGBC, visit

The following charts detail the potential savings that can be achieved through improvements to existing buildings.

  • Commercial Building Stock in the U.S. (1995)
    Floor space: 58,772 million square feet

    Annual Energy Use (Trillion Btu)

    Electricity: 2,608
    Natural gas: 1,946
    Fuel oil: 235
    District heat: 533

    Annual Expenditures (million $)

    Electricity: $56,621
    Natural gas: $9,018
    Fuel oil: $1,175
    District heat: $3,103

    Source: U.S. DOE/EIA Annual Energy Review 1997

  • Potential Energy Savings
    (potential 30% reduction average in annual energy use—trillion Btu)

    Electricity: 782
    Natural gas: 584
    Fuel oil: 71
    District heat: 160
    TOTAL: 1,597l

  • Potential Energy Cost Savings

    (potential reduction in annual expenditures—million $)

    Electricity: $16,986
    Natural gas: $2,705
    Fuel oil: $353
    District heat: $931
    TOTAL: $20,975l

  • Potential Reduction in Emissions
    (short tons)

    CO2: 274,489,000
    NOx: 978,000
    SO2: 1,711,000
    Particulates: 31,000
    Mercury: 8

  • Products bearing irresponsible environmental claims, a practice known as “greenwashing,” can jeopardize designers’ efforts and, ultimately, their reputations when trying to make environmentally responsible specifications and recommendations—until now.

    The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has established the “Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims” to bring clear, concise definitions and specific certification standards to environmental claims. Guidelines examine:
  • basis of claim;
  • environmentally friendly claims;
  • recycled content;
  • recyclability;
  • degradable/biodegradable/photodegradable elements; and
  • clarity of claims, qualifiers and disclaimers.

    To ensure reliability, the FTC requires a reasonable basis for substantiating environmental claims, which will often require analysis, research and studies provided by a credible third-party evaluator. “As an architect with a firm that is experiencing a rapid increase in interest from clients and our own designers about sustainable design and products, it’s a constant challenge to get accurate information on environmentally preferable building materials and furnishings,” notes Jim Gleeson, AIA, director of sustainable design for Little & Associates Architects, one of the country’s largest architecture and design firms. “Any tool such as the FTC Guides that helps to hold manufacturers accountable for their environmental claims is extremely useful.
    It simplifies the process of specifying products and provides to us and our clients a greater degree of confidence about our product selections.”

    Now interior designers can specify and recommend products offering environmental benefits by demanding that all environmental claims meet FTC’s guides and receive certification from a credible, independent third-party evaluator.

    This puts the responsibility back onto the manufacturer. C&A Floorcoverings, a manufacturer and supplier of commercial floor coverings, is one of a few companies making an aggressive effort to change the conscience of the industry. In June, it received certification from Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), an internationally
    recognized third-party testing and certification organization, of its recycled content and recyclability assertions. SCS follows FTC guides
    in evaluating marketing claims. C&A’s ER3“ modular tile products now carry a label certifying their recycled content. In addition, SCS certified the following C&A environmental claims:

  • Powerbond ER3“ modular tile products contain between 31- to 50-percent overall recycled content, and a minimum of 23-percent recycled carpet (minimum seven-percent post-consumer carpet, with the balance from post-industrial content). Exact percentages
    vary by style.

  • ER3“ carpet backing is made from 100-percent recycled plastic and contains a minimum of 74-percent recycled carpet, of which a minimum is 22-percent post-consumer.

  • C&A has a carpet collection/recovery system and a currently operational, commercial-scale recycling process to recycle
    vinyl-backed carpet. Carpet recycled in the process is used to produce ER3 backing. Powerbond carpet, when recovered, is 100-percent recyclable in this process.

    Additional information on the “FTC Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims” can be found at or in an executive summary on C&A’s Web site located at www.power For more information on the SCS Environmental Claims Certification Program, visit or call 800-ECO-FACTS.

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