There has been quite a dust-up over last week's energy efficiency feasibility study by NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association. The study challenged the economic feasibility of developing office buildings with 30% and 50% energy efficiency targets. Essentially, the study concluded:
Using energy models, the report found that 30 percent and 50 percent improvements in energy efficiency over code were not financially feasible for most new, Class A office construction. Developers striving for the 30 percent target would not recoup the cost of their initial energy efficiency investments within a 10-year period, while the 50 percent target was far beyond their reach, the study said.
However, the NAIOP study highlights some very important flaws in the current analysis of green buildings.
1. We need to stop measuring certification, and start measuring performance. If we had good, apples-to-apples measurements of energy efficiency, water savings, indoor air quality, vehicle miles travelled by occupants and occupant satisfaction which we could compare across building types, it would be easier to deflect the misinformation being espoused by green building skeptics.
2. We need to start incorporating carbon costs. NAIOP's main argument is that achieving 30-50% energy efficiency is not cost effective. If building carbon costs and other environmental externalities were measured as a component of the cost-benefit analysis, even a flawed study like the NAIOP would have a hard time showing that the costs outweighed the benefits.
3. We need policies which mandate measurement and verification. In order to collect solid information about building performance over time. To do so, public policies should incorporate energy efficiency, water savings, indoor air quality, vehicle miles travelled by occupants and occupant satisfaction reporting as components of their green building regulation.
By effectively incorporating costs and developing solid performance measurements, we can acheive credible green building arguments (as well as improving the performance of the buildings themselves) which will give the green building movement credibility in an age of skepticism.