June 8, 2017 | Liz Austin

The ordinance is expected to translate to $8 million a year in energy cost savings — the equivalent of taking 15,000 cars off the road in emissions reductions.

In the fall of 2016, St. Louis was selected for inclusion in the second phase of the City Energy Project, a program that supports and funds initiatives aimed at improving energy efficiency in corporate buildings. St. Louis, along with nine other newly selected cities, joins 10 others from across the country that are already working towards reducing energy consumption in their respective municipalities.

Launched in 2014 and slated to run through 2018, the City Energy Project is a joint initiative overseen by the National Resource Defense Council and the Institute for Market Research. The ultimate goal of the program is to elevate annual energy savings nationwide to $1.5 billion by 2030, which would result in carbon emissions reductions equal to taking nearly 2 million cars off the road.

When Less is More

So how will the project facilitate meaningful reductions in the amount of energy consumed by each city? By establishing benchmarking ordinances: city laws that require buildings above a certain size to track energy consumption and report it to the city. St. Louis’ ordinance — known as Building Energy Awareness — was sponsored by 7th Ward Alderman Jack Coatar and signed into law by Mayor Francis Slay in February. By 2025, the ordinance is expected to translate to $8 million a year in energy cost savings, or the equivalent of taking 15,000 cars off the road in emissions reductions.

As noted by Emily Andrews, the Executive Director of the Missouri Gateway Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, benchmarking is an essential component of efficient reductions in energy consumption. Without it, building owners can’t know where inefficiencies are most glaring or how best to address them.

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” Andrews says. “If you aren’t paying attention to your energy and water use, how can you improve? How can you be more efficient?”

In St. Louis alone, it is estimated that nearly 77% of citywide greenhouse gas emissions are generated from existing buildings. More than half of these carbon emissions (roughly 42% of the citywide total) come from commercial building energy use alone. The city also estimates that more than 30% of all building energy in the city is used inefficiently or unnecessarily.

How It Will Work

As part of its participation as a partner city, St. Louis will receive $500,000 from the City Energy Project in order to support help building owners adapt to the benchmarking efforts. A portion of the funds have already been set aside in order to hire a city technical advisor whose job it will be to work alongside members of the community in successfully implementing the new consumption measurement process.

In St. Louis, building owners will report the results of their monitoring through the EPA-managed Energy Star Portfolio Manager, an online tool used to measure and track energy and water consumption, as well as greenhouse gas emissions. That data will be shared with city officials and in turn be made publicly available.

Looking Ahead

In order to support these new sustainability practices into the future, St. Louis is also ramping up its commitment to Set the PACE St. Louis, a lending program that provides financing and other funding to building owners looking to make structural alterations to their buildings in the name of efficiency and cost reduction.

As it stands now, energy use in a typical office building can account for 19% of all expenditures. And while forward-thinking developers like Green Street already approach new developments with an eye toward cost-effective sustainability, there is a need (and opportunity) to bring older buildings to higher levels of efficiency with targeted, data-based renovations.

“Our older buildings may need a little love, but there’s is a huge opportunity for improvement here,” Andrews says. “Anytime you are reusing buildings, you’re being sustainable. The greenest building is the one that’s already built. Any renovation or adaptation of existing buildings is a positive step.”

As more cities pass similar benchmarking ordinances around the country, the practice of requiring building owners to track and report their energy use is becoming more accepted — and welcomed. Right now, more than 166 million Americans live in areas where the levels of air pollution routinely exceed healthy standards. Accordingly, improvements to building energy use are not only a necessary standard of healthy urban living, but a means of cultivating sustainable local business environments as well.

“Having a focus on efficiency and sustainability is an important piece of attracting businesses and retaining population,” Andrews says. “People care about it. They don’t always know where they fit or what they can do beyond their own personal lifestyle choices, but they want to see these values reflected in city government and in businesses.”

Energy benchmarking ordinances in cities like St. Louis help individuals contextualize their own lifestyles and visualize the power of positive, citywide change.

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