Time To Get To Work, Not Lose Hope

By Johanna Schweiss, Volunteer & Outreach Coordinator, USGBC-Missouri Gateway Chapter

In early October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report that calls for significant emissions reductions over the next decade to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, the level needed to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change. In order to meet the recommendation of the report , greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 45% from 2010 by 2030, and 100% by 2050. Avoiding the worst impacts of a changing climate will require transformation that has “no documented historic precedent.” (Visit www.ipcc.ch/report/sr15 to read the full report.)

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the energy used by buildings in the United States is responsible for almost 40% of our national greenhouse gas emissions (US EIA). Locally, we see an even bigger impact. In 2015, residential and commercial buildings accounted for 62% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the City of St. Louis (2015 GHG Inventory).

Because they contribute such a large percentage of our greenhouse gas emissions, buildings have a huge role to play in the climate action ahead. The stakes are high and the timing is short – but the solutions to this problem already exist. This is not the time to lose hope, but to get to work.

Widespread implementation of energy efficiency measures in our buildings could yield big emissions reduction and big cost savings. According to the U.S. EPA, the average building wastes approximately 30% of the energy it consumes due to inefficiency. And half of all energy savings are possible through low-cost or no-cost operational improvements.

The first step to achieve energy savings is energy benchmarking, the process of tracking a building’s energy (and/or water use) and comparing performance to similar buildings and to past performance. You know the saying – “you can’t manage what you don’t measure.” Since 2014, the U.S. Green Building Council – Missouri Gateway Chapter has been challenging buildings in the St. Louis Region to benchmark their energy use through a voluntary energy benchmarking campaign, Better Buildings through Benchmarking.

Over 80 building owners and managers have committed to benchmark their building energy use. Locally, the cities of Clayton, Creve Coeur, Maplewood, and University City participate in Better Buildings Through Benchmarking in order to track energy use in government operations. Consider encouraging your municipality, school, or congregation to benchmark their building. There are free on-line tools available for this as well as local support from our staff and volunteers.

In 2017, the City of St. Louis passed the Building Energy Awareness Ordinance, which requires buildings over 50,000 square feet to benchmark and disclose their building energy and water use annually. This policy has been implemented in cities and counties throughout the country. 1100 buildings were first required to report their performance data in 2018.

As part of this process, the City of St. Louis benchmarked their own buildings, pursued ENERGY STAR certification for 3 city owned buildings, and plan to utilize funds from the Missouri Division of Energy’s Energy Loan program to implement energy efficiency improvements.

Kansas City, Missouri recently announced that they have reduced city government’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below levels in the year 2000, and city-wide emissions have reduced 21% below their year 2000 baseline. This reduction is despite a growing population, and is primarily attributed to reductions in building energy use with progress in the transportation sector (Google Greenability KC emissions to read an article about this achievement).

The changes needed to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change are significant, but achievable. Time is of the essence — I encourage you to get involved, understand the power of the choices that you make and join us in our work to transform the built environment and speed our transition to a low carbon economy. With urgency and resolve, we will continue the important work.