April 21 is Earth Day, started 35 years ago by John McConnell, a life-long conservationist and pacifist who wanted to dedicate one day each year to admiring, protecting and cleaning up the natural environment.
In the same spirit, the Environmental Protection Agency has created the Energy Star program, which encourages businesses, corporations, governments and private residences alike to practice energy efficiency in order to reduce the $80 billion spent each year on electricity and natural gas.
“Electricity, in most cases in this country, is generated by burning fossil fuels,” said Kurt Johnson, director of the EPA’s Green Power Partnership, a sister program to Energy Star. Using fossil fuels, like burning coal or natural gas, “creates greenhouse gases and other forms of pollution,” he said.
Roughly half of the American population, corporate or private, has access to green, or renewable, energy sources, he said. “Many people don’t know where energy comes from, let alone that there are alternative sources of energy available, sometimes through their current service provider.” Renewable energy sources include solar, wind and hydroelectric power along with biogas and geothermal heat collection.
Both Energy Star and the Green Power Partnership have devised ways to recognize companies that participate in energy-conserving practices, whether it’s changing a lighting systems or installing Energy Star-labeled equipment, in the hopes of encouraging others in the same field to join the effort.
The Green Power Partnership has a list on its Web site, www.epa.gov/greenpower, acknowledging the nation’s top 25 users of renewable energy sources. Included in the top five, based on the number of mega-watt hours produced by alternative energy sources, are the United States Air Force, Johnson & Johnson, The EPA, The World Bank and the United States General Services Administration.
“These folks are buying a substantial amount of green power,” Johnson said. “We’re hoping people in various sectors will look at the list and see who’s on it and maybe take alternative energy use into consideration.”
WHEN THE Green Power Partnership was launched three years ago, it was “conventional wisdom” that most large companies would be unlikely to get on the bandwagon to try green power.
“We thought we’d have more luck with the residential side, but much to our delight, most of the market growth has been in the commercial, industrial and institutional sectors,” Johnson said. With well-known participants like Harvard University, Staples, FedEx Kinkos, the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the BMW Manufacturing Plant in Spartan, S.C. among the list, it’s clear that the green energy movement is, well, gathering steam.
Locally, Montgomery County was named a 2004 Partner of the Year with the Green Power Partnership. Over 38,400 megawatt hours of wind-created energy is used throughout the county each year, totaling about 5 percent of all electricity used in the regional energy purchasing partnership. This was the largest purchase of wind energy by a single municipality.
“We live in a world where we’re bombarded with thousands of messages every day on different products to buy, so it’s hard to get our message out there,” he said. “It will take a while, but then again, 25 years ago it was unheard of to have a recycling bin next to a copy machine.”
The goal of the Green Power Partnership is to inform the public and companies alike that alternative energy sources are available. “Ultimately, we want to reach the point where green power use is understood as widely as possible as a standard practice and a corporate environmental responsibility,” Johnson said. “The green power market is in its infancy, but as knowledge and use expands, so will the awareness.”
The Energy Star Challenge is issued to corporations of all sizes to increase their energy efficiency by at least ten percent, said Cindy Jacobs, chief of the marketing sectors group for Energy Star Commercial and Industrial relations.
“Part of the challenge is pulling together a partnership with associations who encourage the members to become more energy efficient,” Jacobs said.
BUSINESSES THAT participate will be recognized at a meeting in October, when reports of their success will be made public. “We feel that 10 percent is doable right now,” Jacobs said. Those companies that achieve the 10 percent benchmark or higher will be distinguished as Energy Star Leaders at the same meeting.
The Energy Star Challenge consists of three parts, she said. The first step is for companies or commercial property owners to make a commitment to reducing the amount of energy their organization wastes.
“Once owners make the commitment to addressing the problem, it’s best to focus on energy management and where energy is being lost in the company,” Jacobs said.
Monitoring how much energy a piece of machinery consumes is important. Just because a piece of equipment is the latest and greatest doesn’t automatically mean it is energy efficient. “If the equipment isn’t correctly programmed, it can’t really help,” she said.
Buildings are rated on a scale of one to 100, Jacobs said, and the higher the rating, the more efficiently the building uses energy.
“We tell commercial property owners to look at all their buildings, but especially buildings rated at fifty or below,” Jacobs said. “A simple inspection might show that some facet of their building is just not working right, which could lead to a loss of energy.”
THE ENERGY STAR program, which labels appliances that have been tested for their efficiency, does not provide monetary incentives to corporations to participate, but Jacobs said an energy efficient building can be its own reward.
“For a corporation to be named energy efficient, that’s good for its corporate reputation,” she said. “A lot of businesses don’t realize that energy is a reducible cost. We try to provide the frame work to allow businesses to see that it’s a good idea to participate in the Energy Star program.”
An average of 30 percent of energy used by a company is wasted, Jacobs said. “No matter how big of an organization you are, that’s a big number to be wasting,” she said. “We’ve seen organizations save millions of dollars simply by being more efficient with their energy use.”
For example, the 3M Corporation saved $9.2 million in energy costs in 2004, Jacobs said. “The assessed value of a building portfolio in corporate real estate is up $37 million due to increased efficiency. The savings for being more efficient is huge.”
The Energy Star program provides corporations and private individuals with a series of tools, tips and suggestions on its Web site, www.energystar.gov. Guidelines for reducing wasted energy are also included.
Incorporating energy-efficient technology is just good business sense, said Donnie Brown, a senior chief engineer for Jones Lang LaSalle in McLean.
TO BECOME a part of the Energy Star program, the first task is to survey a particular building for energy use and input that information on the Energy Star Web site, Brown said. “It compares your building’s information with others in the same category across the country, and if you’re in the top 15 to 20 percent, you’re designated as an Energy Star building.”
Jones Lang LaSalle is owned by the Westpark Corporation, which has several Energy Star designated buildings.
If a company begins conservation efforts when a building is constructed, the building may be more attractive to tenants, who will pay lower costs for heating, electricity and other utilities.
“Over the years, if you do those things from construction phase on, you’ll be successful in conserving energy,” Brown said.
Installing features like occupancy sensors in a room, which detect when people enter a room or when there hasn’t been movement for several minutes and automatically trigger or shut off lights, are simple ways a building can become more energy efficient, he said.
“Technology is getting better and better all the time,” Brown said. “If an appliance comes on the market that isn’t Energy Star certified, it won’t sell.”
Tammy Dodson-Baldwin knows the benefits of constructing energy efficient buildings and homes personally: Not only does her company, Dodson Homes of Centreville, construct Energy Star certified homes, she lives in one.
“The insulation we use when building homes is much denser than fiberglass insulation, which works to keep heat out in the summer and in during the winter much better,” she said. “The types of appliances we use, the type of gas fire places we install, they’re all Energy Star labeled appliances.”
The cost incurred by using those appliances is not much different from purchasing items that are not Energy Star certified, but the savings are much greater.
“Building a home this way makes a huge difference in your gas bill,” she said.
Prior to her move to Winchester, Dodson-Baldwin owned a home with the same floor plan in Centreville. Her new home is Energy Star certified, and her savings on heating during the winter can be as much as $200 each month.
“All my bills are cheaper in this house,” she said.
Special windows, called Low E windows, are used in the construction of Energy Star homes, that are able to maintain a constant temperature in a room regardless of the heat coming in from the sun.
“People who buy Energy Star homes know that they have to meet certain criteria and use energy efficient products,” Dodson-Baldwin said. “People know they’ll save on heating and cooling costs, which is important when you’re purchasing a 4,000 square foot home.”
Additionally, there are sixteen buildings owned by the Charles E. Smith Commercial Management group that are Energy Star certified, including the Five Park buildings in Crystal City; Skyline 4 and 6 in Falls Church; Courthouse II in Arlington; Rosslyn Plaza C in Rosslyn; and buildings at 2001 Jefferson Davis Highway, 1215 South Clark St. and 201 12 St., all in Crystal City.