A building doesn’t have to be new to be efficient. Today’s leading building owners are retrofitting buildings, converting existing buildings into models of sustainability.  Building energy retrofits are investments in efficient technology during building renovation. While most building owners still pursue single technology improvements, market leaders bundle together energy saving technologies to get deeper savings in a more comprehensive approach. Energy performance contracting is one business model that enables building owners to implement whole building retrofits and significantly lower energy consumption and operating costs. Essentially, the upgrades are paid for through energy savings over time. Photo credit: Jack Amick/Flickr.

Implementing best practices in operations can significantly improve building efficiency. Today’s technologies create unprecedented energy data for analysis and action.  The performance of building systems, operational changes and maintenance efforts can be tracked over time.  These technology tools will be transformative if we continue to evolve our energy management practices, review the data, build our plans and act on new information. The goal? Bringing people and technology together to improve building performance.

Upgrading a chiller, installing a solar photovoltaic system, undertaking a deep whole-building retrofit—all these projects require large upfront investments and have long payback horizons even as they deliver operational savings. External funding and innovative finance may complement the use of internal capital or operating budgets to support investments.  And increasingly, new metrics for value are reshaping the discussion from straight financial “return on investment” of a technology to new metrics on building asset value and achieving co-benefits such as improvements in productivity, environment, health, and resilience. Photo Credit: Michael Fleshman/Flickr

Smart, green, productive and efficient buildings contribute to urban efficiency and high-performance cities. Buildings don’t turn green with a fresh coat of paint, and building green is not an afterthought. Green, net zero building principles encompass the entire life cycle of a building—from the design and construction phases to the operation and maintenance of the building. Green buildings efficiently select and use resources and engage occupants to live and work in the buildings in a sustainable manner.  Those that match their energy demand with on-site energy production can achieve “net-zero” status. Increasingly, green and net zero buildings are demonstrating real market traction - and the benefits are becoming clear. Photo credit: Brad Kahn/Flickr

Energy use by buildings offers a tremendous opportunity for governments seeking to foster clean energy technologies. Sustainability-minded policymakers should focus on three interlinked policy approaches related to better buildings: 1) energy policy that favors energy efficiency and distributed renewable energy sources, 2) climate policy that recognizes and internalizes the cost of carbon pollution; and 3) standards and performance criteria for the building envelope and the building components.

The Sustainable Energy for All Building Efficiency Accelerator (BEA) assists sub-national governments in speeding up the process of adoption of best-practice policies and implementation of building efficiency projects, with the goal of doubling the rate of energy efficiency improvement in the building sector by 2030. The BEA global partnership is designed to complement existing networks of cities with a venue for engagement with private sector partners.