Regional Action Moves United States Toward Sustainability

While the United States has not yet seen national legislation aimed at reducing corporate carbon footprints and promoting sustainability, state and local governments across the country have begun to take bold steps in their effort to protect the environment.

Many states are adopting policies and legislation and promoting voluntary campaigns specifically aimed at reducing energy usage in commercial buildings. The result is a step in the direction of greater efficiency, lower energy costs and fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

A great example is New York City, which recently passed NYC Local Law 84 as part of the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan, requiring both public and private buildings in the city to track energy and water consumption using EPA’s Portfolio Manager. Starting in 2010, city buildings larger than 10,000 square feet were required to benchmark energy and water usage, while private buildings larger than 50,000 square feet were required to follow suit in the beginning of 2011. These performance metrics will be published and made available to the public via an accessible online database, giving complete
transparency to those interested in choosing space based on the environmentally friendly nature of the building.

Similarly, Austin, Texas’, Energy Conservation Audit and Disclosure Ordinance requires that as of June 1, 2011, eligible commercial facilities gauge their energy performance using a rating system approved by the Austin Electricity Utility. Utilizing Energy Star, compiled information is disclosed to prospective buyers before the time of sale, thus encouraging energy efficiency and highlighting its importance and the inevitability of energy efficiency as a factor in business decisions. And the City of San Francisco amended the San Francisco Environment Code with the Existing Commercial Buildings Energy Performance Ordinance in April. This now requires owners of nonresidential buildings to file Annual Energy Benchmark summaries using EPA’s Portfolio Manager.

Although it’s not at the federal level yet, we are beginning to see different parts of the country take action toward demanding greater environmental awareness from big business. These moves are certainly crucial to protecting the environment on a larger scale, but they are also more critical to corporate profitability than many companies tend to realize. U.S. companies such as Nike, Target, Cisco, Campbell's Soup, Hilton, TXU Energy, and Chrysler have reported saving tens of millions of dollars by adopting renewable energy, energy efficiency and recycling schemes.

Cities such as Chicago and Houston are recognizing the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a concerted effort to fight global warming and climate change. Some have launched campaigns and incentive programs to challenge business owners to achieve a better understanding of their energy and water usage.

Other programs, such as the C40 and its partnership with the Clinton Climate Initiative, have further solidified the importance of tackling this important topic. Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York and Philadelphia are among the major cities included as participants that acknowledge the social, economic and fiscal implications of the long-term effects of global warming. As home to nearly half of the world’s population and responsible for the consumption of two thirds of the world’s energy and 70 percent of CO2 emissions, participants in C40 have recognized the need to be part of the solution.

While we await proper attention to sustainability on a federal level, these regions will lead the way and make it necessary for other key areas of the United States to take note and join the effort. While sustainability proves profitable for businesses, it is also a necessary endeavor for the sake of the environment. With evidence of climate change, including increased global average temperatures, rising sea levels and decreased snow coverage in the Northern Hemisphere, it is imperative that the issue is addressed globally. Only together will we see the impact on the environment we so desperately need. And, along the way, our businesses will become more profitable and more likely to succeed long term.

What is your building, town or city doing to promote environmental awareness and corporate sustainability?

About the Author

Ralph Breslauer is president of Americas operations for CarbonSystems, a leading provider of sustainability accounting software with offices in New York, San Franciso, London and Sydney.

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