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Energy Efficient Buildings: Vintage Chic or New and Refined?

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Nevelyn Black's picture
Writer, Independent

Nevelyn Black is an independent writer with a background in broadcast and a keen interest in renewable energy.  In the last few years, she transitioned from celebrity interviews and film shoots...

  • Member since 2017
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  • Jul 24, 2021

Amazon, one of The Big Five information technology companies in the country, is building a new headquarters in Arlington, VA.  The e-commerce company aims to set the bar in innovation and creativity through the construction of their new complex.  Based on the project plans, the buildings will earn an LEED Platinum certification, the highest seal of sustainability issued by the U.S. Green Building Council (USBGC).  Devoted to green building, the USBGC sent a letter to the Senate Budget Committee urging lawmakers to prioritize their considerations regarding the sector.  Currently, the building sector is responsible for 40% of nation’s CO2 emissions.    To further address the problem, the Council proposed direct investments such as grant funding toward tax incentives for energy efficiency improvements and the modernization of schools and public buildings.  Reaching the requirements of an LEED certification takes much planning and ingenuity on the part of designers, architects and builders.  According to Amazon, the complex will “align with Amazon’s Climate Pledge to be net-zero carbon by 2040 and advance Arlington and Amazon’s shared commitment to be leaders in the fight against climate change.”   However, some find it hard to justify new construction projects while current vacancies are available that can be retrofitted.  Comparing the post-construction energy savings that take place over the the next 30 to 50 years of a buildings operational phase with the waste and pollution created by a new construction project has raised a debate.  The argument is that the amount of carbon dioxide emissions that occur in the construction of a new building should be carefully considered not just the low emissions of a building after its construction.  This ‘embodied carbon’ reflects the sum of all greenhouse gas produced during construction and has researchers looking deeper into the issue.   While we await those figures, new construction technology and smart building automation systems are helping reduce the environmental impact of new buildings. Utilizing this technologies, a new high-rise apartment building in Seattle hopes to prove that constructing a net-zero energy building can be far more sustainable than traditional building. 

Legislative support is also on the rise.  A new law in Massachusetts requires, Mass Save, the state energy efficiency initiative, to adopt the “social value of greenhouse gas emission reductions” into programs it creates for a three-year period and to set appliance energy efficiency standards.  Beginning in 2022, the program will offer incentives for consumers who implement technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Democratic Sen. Mike Barrett, co-chair of the Committee on Telecommunication, Utilities and Energy said, “Carbon pricing penalizes energy sources that pollute. Social values pricing rewards energy sources that are clean.  That should have been a no-brainer.”  Under the law, the governor must also appoint three new members of the Board of Building Regulations and Standards. One must be an expert in commercial building energy efficiency, another an expert in residential building energy efficiency and the third an expert in advanced building technology.  With that level of expertise in oversight any new regulation or standard should be welcomed.

Amazon plans to power the new complex with 100 percent renewable energy, using two thirds of the renewable energy generated for its four-million-square-foot energy-efficient office space and sharing the remainder with the city of Arlington.  The debate on retrofitting versus new builds continues but the goal remains the same, improving energy efficiency and reducing emissions caused by the building sector.  What other collaborations between the public and private sector are getting energy efficiency results?  How will new legislation impact your utilities' energy efficiency initiatives?


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