In December, 2009, a task force convened by San Francisco Mayor, Gavin Newsom, issued a report on the steps necessary to make existing commercial buildings more efficient.  (Click here for the full report) It’s not as comprehensive or technical as reports one expects from the specialists and experts that comprise the task force, but it is a good policy report. Why am I slightly “cool” on the report?  It’s no fault of the task force.

The reason is because it’s a policy report, and until the policies are enacted, the report is just hot air blowing in December. (Cue sly grin for “hot air” pun).  The reason this post is coming up now, however, is not only the fact that I’m finally getting around to it, but also the fact that Mayor Newsom seems to be as well…(getting around to the report, that is).

San Francisco has arguably the best green building track record of any city in the United States, so if anyone can enact the recommendations, San Francisco can. As you will read below, Mayor Newsom is reportedly going to propose enacting one of the recommendations into law.  Before addressing the proposed law, let’s look at how the task force recommends we fix the existing commercial buildings.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, the task force recommends following the California Long Term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan (CEESP).  CEESP sets a goal of zero net energy for new (and some existing) residential buildings by 2020 and commercial buildings by 2030. Regarding existing buildings in San Francisco, the task force believes the CEESP goal could be achieved with a 50% reduction in all existing building energy use by 2030.  That amounts to a 2.5 % reduction in energy use every year . . . daunting, but doable.

The task force report uses four general “themes” to suggest meeting and exceeding CEESP:  1) maximize transparency, 2) partner with the private sector, 3) attract game-changing capital, 4) lead by example.  I will address each of these in turn, but don’t worry, I only address number 1 in this post. The rest will wait for Part 2.

1) Maximize Transparency:  The task force recommends the disclosure of energy performance for all existing commercial buildings.  Sounds pretty good, right?  Well, the requirement to disclose energy efficiency in commercial buildings has been law for some time now.  AB 1103, enacted in 2007, with requirements set to trigger in 2009 (delayed until July 2010), requires “electric and gas utilities . . . to maintain records of the energy consumption data of all nonresidential buildings to which they provide service.”  And the utilities must provide those records to property buyers, tenants, or investors.

According to the San Francisco Examiner, the mayor will propose a similar requirement shortly, but with the added bonus that the energy consumption data would be available to the general public.

This idea sets off a slew of potential legal issues, and here’s one: From a transaction side, a lease now has new potential incentives and benchmarks.  If a tenant reduces energy consumption over a series of years, that could be worth a bonus from the landlord because it makes the property more valuable from a public relations standpoint and also from a re-sale re-lease perspective.  On the contrary, a landlord may simply require that a tenant improve energy efficiency every year, and set penalties if they fail to meet the benchmarks.  A successful business relationship will find a middle ground, but these are certainly new bargaining chips.  Just think we haven’t even entered the world of cap and trade…

Lets also remember there is no current penalty for failing to increase efficiency.  The rest of the task force recommendations rely on private help and public leadership.  Is that enough? I’m not so sure…

Stay tuned for Part 2….

(Editor’s Note: check out the Institute for Market Transformation – a great resource I found in researching some of this post.)

As discussed in Part I of this post, LEED version 3.0, first implemented in June 2009 includes enhancements that place greater emphasis on closing the gap between performance expectations and actual performance.  These measures were likely included partially in response to studies focusing on performance of LEED buildings that illustrated a potential for large fluctuations in meeting projected performance levels. Performance is primarily based on energy and systems modeling, and one study of existing LEED buildings found that although LEED buildings are higher performing than regular buildings, the actual performance measurements deviate as much as 25% from projected levels.

Version 3.0 introduces several new elements which will work to close the gap between expected and actual performance. Buildings can now gain more points under both the LEED energy efficiency credits and measurement and verification credits, which include greater emphasis on commissioning, post occupancy monitoring and validation of energy use.

One key component to performance monitoring is that the USGBC now mandates that buildings provide post occupancy data on all LEED-certified structures. Buildings must provide the USGBC with post-occupancy water and energy bills, even if the building changes owners. The USGBC plans to collect and analyze this data to determine areas which need the most improvement and in turn to address these areas in subsequent LEED versions. Data collection is taken seriously, the USGBC has posted the following statement on its website:


MPRs, minimum project requirements, were newly introduced with version 3.0 and require each project to meet certain specified criteria including compliance with environmental laws and providing the energy and water use data referenced above.  If a building’s owner fails to provide this data to the USGBC, the building’s LEED certification MAY be revoked.

The USGBC has not stated that once the building’s data is received and analyzed, if it is not meeting performance criteria, its certification will be revoked. As written, it seems that certification can only be revoked by failing to provide the data itself. We will need to wait to see how this new element plays out upon completion of more 3.0 projects. Maybe in the future the USGBC will take the more drastic step of de-certification for failure to meet projected performance if confirmed by data collection.

Obviously, green building will never be as prolific as it seems destined to be if buildings fail to perform.  The USGBC’s recent changes, along with the actions taken by the BSC and ASHRAE (discussed in Part I of this article) are huge steps in the right direction. This nascent emphasis on actual building performance is a trend that will increase significantly as green building continues to gain traction and a larger percentage of LEED buildings’ post-occupancy performance can be tracked and analyzed.

Stay tuned to the California Green Building Blog for new information on this topic.

It seems that green building made it to primetime in 2009. Not only are individual projects embracing third party rating systems, the past few years has also seen a meteoric rise in popularity of codifying green as hundreds of cities and towns across the country adopted green elements into their building codes. And, just this January, California became the first state to mandate a state wide green building code.

Despite the hype about the use of sustainable building methods, actual systems performance of green buildings is sometimes neglected and often overlooked. This is because much of the energy and building systems post-occupancy performance evaluations are based on pre and mid construction modeling and calculations. People have finally seriously begun to ask the question: are green buildings meeting their performance expectations?

If a building does not perform as promised, it not only fails to deliver, it could lose its marketing edge, lose its tax or government incentives, and could even be faced with a lawsuit over these failed expectations. Thankfully, this was also the year that these concerns began to be concretely addressed. California’s Building Standards Commission (BSC), the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineer’s (ASHRAE), and the US Green Building Counsel (USGBC) all placed greater emphasis on building performance by including heightened commissioning and mandatory post-occupancy performance evaluations in their rating systems or mandates.

California’s new “CALGreen” building codes place emphasis on the typical areas such as site sustainability, water use efficiency, energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, air pollution, and materials and resources, but also include the often under emphasized requirement of commissioning. Commissioning is added assurance that all the building’s subsystems for HVAC, plumbing, electrical, fire/life safety, and building security are operating as intended by the owner and as intended by the building architects and engineers. It is a key element in achieving reduced energy levels and ensuring a high performance green building. The BSC recognized this and included in the CALGreen building codes a requirement for a pre-construction commissioning plan as well as the mandatory preparation of a commissioning report recommending post occupancy commissioning and systems operation training.

Another major recent development is ASHRAE’s newly released Standard 189.1, published in conjunction with the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America and the USGBC. The ASHRAE standard was developed with the intention that it will be adopted and incorporated into building codes. Standard 189.1 increases energy savings over the prior commonly used Standard 90.1. It requires that measurement devices with remote communication capability be installed to collect energy consumption data. Energy subsystems like the building’s HVAC system, or elevators are also required to collect and store data if the subsystems collective load exceeds specified thresholds.  Data must be collected daily with hourly energy use profiles and must be retained for at least 3 years. This will assist building owners and operators as well as local jurisdictions meet their sustainability targets and is intended to complement LEED and other existing green building rating standards.

Finally, the leading market based rating system developed by the USGBC, LEED, released a new version 3.0 last June which includes enhanced commissioning requirements placing further emphasis on building performance… Stay tuned for part II of this post for more information.


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