Is energy efficiency condemned to be an “eat your peas” technology? Matt Wald, The New York Times’ senior energy reporter, remarked during a Scaling Green Communicating Energy Lecture earlier this month that energy efficiency “is like flossing your teeth. It’s a wonderful idea, but it’s hard to get people to do it … Saving energy is no. 11 on people’s top 10 lists of things to do, despite whatever they tell you.”
We wanted to put the same question to someone who is professionally invested in the topic. So we asked Jennifer Layke of the Johnson Controls-funded Institute for Building Efficiency (IBE), which recently released its updated, worldwide survey of more than 3,000 global executives and building owners’ attitudes towards energy efficiency and renewable energy in buildings.
The report found that:
- More than “sixty percent of global respondents said their organizations were investing in energy efficiency and over a third of them reported investing in renewable energy projects.”
- Over half of respondents said they planned to increase their investments in clean energy next year, with just 9 percent saying they planned to pull back on such investments.
To Layke, the survey shows just how fast the clean energy market is evolving. In her eyes, traditional views toward efficiency are shifting rapidly, in part because information technology solutions are giving building owners and operators a clear vision of what can be done in a much more visible way than before. Software-driven dashboards, for instance, allow building operators to diagnose and engage with building efficiency performance in ways they couldn’t in the past.
According to Layke, the commercial challenge of energy efficiency today isn’t so much in the industrial sector, where companies like Dow see it as a core, long-term facet of their business. Instead, the biggest challenge is in the commercial building space, with its shorter time horizons and leasing obstacles that hobble efforts to provide cost incentives renters to save energy. Overall, Layke is excited about new financing options for efficiency projects that will enhance their ability to compete against alternative investment options for building owners and reduce payback times as well.
But what about communicating these possibilities in a more exciting way?
Layke thinks the central challenge is shifting the paradigm from “retrofits” to the more accurate label of “upgrades.” According to Layke, this conveys the “sense of progress and forward momentum of energy efficiency” and also “helps frame what the energy efficiency dialogue is all about – improvement.”
Though energy waste in the United States is certainly a problem, Jennifer Layke cautions that communications should be less about waste and more about savings. As LEED standards and other green building ratings systems have taken off in recent years, the market penetration of green buildings is increasing, and consumers are becoming much more savvy about how energy efficiency can benefit the bottom line.
The IBE survey shows that interest in energy management continues to grow. Globally, the percentage of respondents who said energy management was extremely or very important to their organizations has jumped from 60 to 85 percent in the last two years. Maybe there is a way to make energy efficiency exciting – or at least compelling – for owners of the world’s large buildings.