Accelerating Building Efficiency: Eight Actions for Urban Leaders


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You can also read the report in interactive web version at

With buildings responsible for 32 percent of global energy consumption and a quarter of CO2 emissions, there is a huge, under-tapped opportunity to create more sustainable cities through building efficiency. More efficient buildings can generate economic benefits, reduce environmental impacts and improve people’s quality of life.

Developed in partnership with Johnson Controls, as well as over a dozen other partners, the report offers practical advice for city leaders, including eight clear and specific recommendations to unlock building efficiency. It presents a politically smart, common-sense approach that will help usher in a new era of better buildings suited for the 21st century.

Key Findings

Economic benefits: Improved building efficiency can reduce costs, improve productivity and help create jobs for people in cities.

  • Increasing efficiency in buildings is one of the most cost-effective ways to improve cities – every $1 invested saves $2 in new electricity generation and distribution costs.
  • Building efficiency is a job-creator: A study found that a 27 percent increase in energy efficiency in Europe by 2030 (compared to 2005 levels) would result in 2 million new jobs.  Another study estimated that retrofitting 40 percent of the United States’ building stock would result in at least 600,000 additional, long-term jobs.
  • Doubling the global rate of energy productivity improvements from approximately 1.5 to 3 percent per year has the potential to produce a savings of US $2 trillion by 2030. This could create more than 6 million jobs by the year 2020.
  • Codes can be a powerful tool, as shown by the experience of countries such as the United States, where such codes saved more than US $44 billion in energy costs and 300 million tons of carbon emissions between 1992 and 2014.

Environmental benefits: Building efficiency increases energy productivity, cuts emissions and reduces pressure on water and other natural resources in cities.

  • Improving building efficiency can contribute to reductions in global CO2 emissions from buildings by 83 percent below business-as-usual by 2050.
  • Natural resources: Globally, buildings are responsible for nearly 40 percent of energy use (including 60 percent of electricity use), 12 percent of water use, 40 percent of waste generated by volume and 40 percent of material resources

Social benefits: Building efficiency can improve people’s quality of life, especially for low-income residents, and create opportunities for better health and productivity.

  • Efficient buildings can help increase energy access and reduce energy poverty for low-income residents, leading to improved health, productivity and comfort. Occupants of energy-efficient homes are likely to spend less money on lighting, heating or cooling, resulting in more spending power for purchasing food and other essential items.

WRI’s eight actions for unlocking building efficiency include:

  1. Building efficiency codes and standards: Cities are built upon a foundation of building codes. Well-designed codes and standards requiring minimum levels of energy efficiency in design, construction and/or operation of building systems can cost-effectively decrease energy expenses over buildings’ lifetimes.
  2. Efficiency improvement targets: Local governments must set clear energy reduction targets to improve building performance across cities, or at least in government-owned buildings. Governments can also introduce voluntary targets to incentivize private sector action.
  3. Performance information and certifications: The market can function if there is clear data differentiating performance. Increasing the transparency of building performance enables building owners, managers, and occupants to make informed real estate transactions, improve building performance, and track performance against targets.
  4. Incentives and finance: City-level leaders have opportunities to make strategic investments in building efficiency, and can work with national and private sector financial institutions to help overcome inertia and spur new investment in buildings. Financing to help cover upfront costs can spark greater investment.
  5. Government leadership by example: Successful government policies in one city should be shared among other urban areas to improve building efficiency while creating greater demand and acceptance for building efficiency.
  6. Engaging building owners, managers and occupants: Local governments should engage private-sector building owners and occupants through partnerships, competitions and awards, user-feedback, and energy management activities.
  7. Engaging technical and financial service providers: The public and private sectors should work together to train the local workforce to implement energy reduction strategies. Engaging service providers enables them to meet demand for building efficiency projects and create good jobs.
  8. Working with utilities: Governments can tap utility-customer relationships to provide better data and make efficient technologies more accessible.

The report is available here as a PDF download and at and the associated Building Efficiency Policy Assessment Tool is available in in Spanish and English or via the 'Resources' section of this website.

Find a synthesis of this report in: Chinese | English | French | PortugueseSpanish | Turkish