Green building boom is pumping billions into U.S. economy - and retrofits are fueling the trend

Ellen Bell

To understand what a significant economic impact green buildings have on our economy today, consider this:

Over the next three years, new LEED-certified construction will contribute more than $303 billion to the United States’ economy, a recent study concluded. This year alone, the industry will generate 2.3 million jobs.

By 2018, this new construction is expected to save more than $1 billion in energy usage and more than $100 million in water use.

But there’s another trend that, if included in the total green building picture, greatly expands the market for energy-efficient buildings: retrofits of already-constructed buildings.   

Buildings use nearly 40 percent of all energy in the U.S. and today a growing number of commercial real estate leaders are looking for opportunities to upgrade what they’ve already got – rather than starting from scratch – to save money and lessen their environmental impact.

What’s more, they can earn certification under LEED (short for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) through a path designed specifically for existing buildings.

Real estate companies look to bottom line

Organizations that need a more tailored approach to making their real estate energy-efficient have a myriad of opportunities that are now being pioneered by property owners across the country. 

These commercial real estate leaders know the importance of comprehensive industry standards such as LEED. But they also know there is a great deal of potential in starting small, and in focusing on what best serves their bottom line.

Here are two examples of companies that enlisted Environmental Defense Fund’s Climate Corps program to accelerate clean energy projects in their facilities and meet their corporate energy goals.

  • 77 West Wacker, a JLL managed property in Chicago, had already tackled its base-building operations and found ways to reduce 32 percent of its energy use through LEED certification and other measures before deciding there was more to do. The building is now advancing new approaches to both comprehensive energy management and tenant engagement with the goal of cutting an additional 26.5 percent of its energy use by 2018.
  • Shorenstein Properties, based in San Francisco, has one of the industry’s most respected sustainability programs with 15 million square feet of its portfolio LEED-certified and an average ENERGY STAR score of 82 out of 100 points. For the last two years, Shorenstein has earned the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark “Green Star”, the highest rating, by focusing its sustainability strategy on smart operation, investment in efficiency, and tenant engagement.

These are just a couple of the organizations that are pushing advanced and outside-the-box energy management solutions in buildings that went up before the LEED boom took off, and which help set America’s building sector on the right track.

The trend isn’t limited to the U.S. Leading global brands are also making energy-efficiency a priority.