BUILDINGS: The Biggest Impact On Greenhouse Gas

Cara Spencer

By Cara Spencer
Director of the Building Energy Exchange St. Louis,

When people think of greenhouse gas emissions, they often think of large vehicles and big factories. But buildings make up 39% of all GHG in the U.S. In cities, that percentage is even higher. In the city of St. Louis, for example, buildings produce a whopping 80% of the greenhouse gases emitted into our community!

We know from these figures that reducing the energy buildings consume would have an enormous impact. Governments at every level are taking notice and more importantly — taking action! Cities and states across the nation have implemented legislation that will push property owners into making investments that will reduce their buildings’ carbon footprint. 

The first is known as “benchmarking.” While this term has many meanings, in the building energy efficiency world, benchmarking refers to the requirement that property owners 

track and report their energy usage. Cities from Cambridge to San Francisco have implemented benchmarking ordinances for large buildings with dozens of cities in between — including St. Louis and Kansas City.

But even more impactful are requirements to actually do something about the energy that buildings 

they use. Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPS for short) are regulations that require property owners reduce their energy consumption by aggregating the submitted data to establish benchmarks which serve as maximum energy use per square footage. So far, six cities and two states have enacted legislation to hold owners of large buildings responsible for reducing energy consumption and countless others are considering these types of measures. The city of St. Louis became the first in the Midwest to adopt BEPS in 2020.

These standards do more than just are not meant to punish major consumers. Instead, they accelerate positive change. Many energy efficiency investments not only reduce emissions, but can quickly improve the bottom line for property owners by saving them thousands on their utility bills. In fact, many upgrades like lighting have a return on the investment of less than two years in energy savings. 

Local efforts are not alone. In January, the Biden-Harris administration launched a National Building Performance Standards Coalition, a partnership between 33 state and local governments to design and implement building performance standards at the state and local level. 

Participants in the Coalition have committed to advancing energy-saving legislation by Earth Day in 2024. It’s exciting that St. Louis is ahead of the game and that Missouri has two cities on this short list! 

Recognizing that not all necessary investments are easy to identify, organizations that support standards have also been helping establish hubs to serve as resources to the property owners, managers, and the real estate industry in general. New York launched its Building Energy Exchange in 2007, DC launched its Building Innovation Hub in 2020. Now St. Louis and Kansas City are joining these with their own hubs in 2022. 

The St. Louis Building Energy Exchange will be formally launching its efforts to drive down energy consumption on March 23. Join us at the Missouri History Museum from 5:30-7pm to learn more about the exchange and exciting work to come. 

Cara Spencer is the director of the Building Energy Exchange St. Louis, a project of the USGBC-Missouri Gateway Chapter. To keep up with their efforts, submit your email to Cara at cara@be-exstl.org