Sharing Transparency for a More Efficient Future

On the Road to Find Out

As director of IMT’s building energy rating program for just more than a year now, I have had the wonderful privilege of traveling the country and the world to explore building energy disclosure policy. Without doubt, it has been a whirlwind education.

In Beijing, I spoke with government officials from the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development and the Chinese Academy of Building Research, the country’s preeminent building sciences organization, about the Central Government’s new building energy label for commercial and high-rise multifamily buildings (single-family homes are quite rare in China). In Frankfurt, Germany, I discussed European building labeling with policy experts from Turkey, France, Romania and Denmark – a labeling bellwether among Member States – and officials from the European Commission, the policy arm of the European Union government. At the ACEEE Summer Study conference last August in California, I heard about international benchmarking and labeling experiences from experts in Australia, India and the United Kingdom. And I’ve been out to Chicago, Albuquerque, Boston, Portland, Annapolis, New York and northeast Wyoming, in the heart of coal country, to listen to policy ideas from state and local policymakers.

China-US Labeling ForumAt most of those events, I also presented on U.S. building energy rating and disclosure policies. Five years ago there wasn’t quite so much to speak about, but all that is changing. Rich policy innovation occurring in states and cities such as California, Massachusetts, New York City, Washington, DC, Seattle and Austin is driving the United States forward into an area that the rest of the world decided long ago was worth pursuing. Federal agencies, spurred by the Obama administration and perhaps this raft of local policies, are now engaging in more meaningful ways on energy disclosure in homes and buildings. We aren’t yet at the forefront of building rating and disclosure, but there’s no question we can be.

In fact, states and cities are poised to continue this trend, even faced with budget shortfalls and a severely anti-regulatory mood in statehouses and legislatures. Why? Because the benefits of rating and disclosure are plain to see – more building energy retrofits, new jobs, lower consumer energy bills, whole-building energy accountability and greater consumer awareness. And the best part is that these things are accomplished by leveraging the market, not supplanting it with heavy-handed regulation that pits business against environmentalists. 

The benefits of rating and disclosing building energy performance are universal, but there are many different paths to get there. Rating and disclosure policies in Europe look different from those in China, which look different from those in Australia. Policies can differ substantially even between EU Member States or between U.S. states and cities. One of my most important tasks is to bring lessons from around the world to the United States, or in other cases, to help states and cities share best practices. For instance, the European Parliament recently updated its building labeling standards to address shortfalls in its original legislation, a sweeping building efficiency act known as the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD). The EPBD Recast, as it’s known there, strengthens compliance and quality assurance checks on energy ratings and makes mandatory the disclosure of ratings when a building or space is advertised.

Energy efficiency advocates and motivated policymakers are working on similar innovations here. I, and many others who I’m fortunate to learn from and work alongside, are doing our best to lend them a hand. In November 2010, IMT convened senior policymakers from 10 U.S. cities and states, leading building efficiency experts and members of industry to share best practices on the implementation of U.S. rating and disclosure policies. Nothing of the sort had been done yet in the United States.

We must continue learning from experiences elsewhere in the world. We must keep moving forward, but smartly. If we can do that, I have no doubt the United States can be a leader in rating and disclosure policy and make important and lasting contributions here around the world.