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The Role of Building Performance Standards in Climate Action

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Green tools and resources can help builders adapt

Building performance standards (BPS) are becoming a critical tool in the fight against climate change, directly influencing energy consumption, carbon emissions, public health and innovation in the built environment. Several states and local governments around the country are beginning to develop, or are considering developing, their own benchmarking requirements, including energy and efficiency standards for buildings. Such requirements help jurisdictions achieve emissions reductions goals within a set timeline while simultaneously reducing long-term energy and emissions costs for building owners and operators by tracking performance and identifying opportunities for improvement.

According to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Washington, Oregon, Colorado and Maryland have passed statewide policies, while several urban areas have developed their own local performance standards. Colorado is taking significant strides to advance building decarbonization with the recent enactment of the state’s Building Performance Colorado (BPC) program. The program requires annual whole building energy use benchmarking and performance improvement targets for commercial, multi-family and public buildings over 50,000 s.f. The overall intention is to achieve sector-wide emissions reduction targets of 7% by 2026 and 20% by 2030 from 2021 levels. There are four different compliance pathways that address either energy use intensity (EUI) or greenhouse gas emissions targets.

Related: LEED-certified Neighborhoods Showcase Sustainable Design

In Colorado, Aspen, Boulder, Denver and Fort Collins are cities leading the charge in developing their own building performance requirements. Energize Denver, which went into effect in early 2023, is garnering lots of attention for its progressive goal to decrease building EUI 30% by 2030 and natural gas heating emissions 50% by 2040. 

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is at the forefront of industry discussions and actively advances priorities such as greater energy efficiency, electrification and emissions reduction goals for both environmental and social benefits. USGBC and the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) offer a diverse array of tools and resources to support BPS and the broader social and environmental objectives of sustainability, resilience, safety, occupant health and comfort, while providing cost savings and economic benefits to building owners and operators. These tools are invaluable aids in implementing and assessing the effectiveness of BPS, ensuring that buildings meet high standards of performance across multiple dimensions.

USGBC’s flagship program, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), provides a holistic framework for evaluating building performance and certifying projects that demonstrate exceptional sustainability achievements. LEED offers a robust set of rating systems tailored to various building types and project scopes, guiding stakeholders through the process of incorporating sustainable design, construction, operation and maintenance practices into their projects. LEED Operations and Maintenance (O+M) may be particularly helpful for existing buildings establishing a foundation for operational improvement as they work to develop a path to compliance. 

The Arc platform serves as an innovative tool for ongoing performance monitoring and benchmarking, enabling building owners and operators to track key performance metrics and identify opportunities for improvement over time. Within the program, the advanced scoring tool allows Arc users to see whether building performance meets the requirements for various state and urban compliance paths. While the program is not an official compliance path, the tool can still help teams benchmark and measure progress on local PBS and codes.

Related: Green Homes are Designed to Address Environmental and Energy Challenges

USGBC and GBCI also offer a range of online and in-person educational resources, training programs and professional credentials to support skills development in green building practices. Such resources empower professionals across the building industry to effectively implement BPS, leverage sustainable technologies and strategies, and drive continuous improvement in building performance.

In addition, the USGBC and GBCI collaborate with industry stakeholders, policymakers and advocacy groups to promote the adoption of BPS and advance sustainability initiatives at the local, national and global levels. Through research, policy advocacy and stakeholder engagement efforts, these organizations work to raise awareness about the benefits of sustainable buildings, advocate for supportive policies and regulations and drive market transformation towards more sustainable and resilient built environments.

The adoption of building performance standards (BPS) represents a crucial step towards creating a more sustainable and resilient built environment, and the tools and resources provided by USGBC and GBCI aim to help stakeholders achieves these goals while taking a broader and more holistic approach to better building and operational practices.

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