Sustainability: Mandatory or Voluntary?

MEP Energy Star CertificationrSustainability is a pervasive word in the modern business world. Both among consumers and industry professionals, individuals are looking for ways to improve their environmental efficiency and develop more conservation-minded business practices. ENERGY STAR is one of many effective tools at our disposal when looking to determine sustainability problem areas and achieve better energy efficiency goals.

With awareness at an all-time high (the ENERGY STAR brand is recognized by 89% of consumers) and competition ramping up for those trying to receive ENERGY STAR certification (76% of business decision-makers say We have to reduce energy consumption if we want to stay competitive from an image perspective,) how can we in the industry reach a wider range participants?

Some states use mandatory benchmarking and energy disclosure policies to increase ENERGY STAR involvement, but is this more effective than the voluntary approach? It reaches a wider range of applicants, but does that correlate to increased sustainability? Here we explore the merits of each approach to the program and whether mandatory benchmarking is harmful or beneficial.

The two approaches to engaging the public and industry with ENERGY STAR unsurprisingly yield different results. When cities and states enact policies that require involvement, ENERGY STAR reaches a wider audience. Policies like AB1103 and Title 24 have changed the playing field for businesses in California. Forced energy use reduction and disclosure of energy footprints have changed the way businesses operate. Mandated energy efficiency policies undoubtedly increase participatory numbers and indeed it shows. Five of the top twenty cities with the most ENERGY STAR certified buildings in 2014 were in California.

Unfortunately, mandatory policies also establish a floor. Those who would go above and beyond standards likely would without the requirement policies in place, while those who would not have become involved are now possibly begrudging participants unlikely to progress past the standards set for them. Mandating disclosure and benchmarking policies does increase awareness of energy efficiency in general, and compels individuals and companies that otherwise would not have given these programs a second glance to become involved.

On the other hand, the voluntary approach has many positive aspects as well. While the number of participants may be fewer, enthusiasm is often much higher. Voluntary ENERGY STAR participation programs create an atmosphere where leaders in industry set the course, and this motivates others to get involved in order to stay competitive. Companies are more likely to go above and beyond requirements when they are making the decision themselves rather than having it mandated by state and local governments. If leaders in energy conservation can educate their peers on the incentives and many benefits of ENERGY STAR certification then an environment is created where striving for energy efficiency is the norm not the exception.

Some cities use a combination of benchmarking and voluntary programs to boost awareness of ENERGY STAR. Competitions like Chicagos Green Office Challenge, Seattles Kilowatt Crackdown, and Arlingtons Green Games allow companies to show their commitment to energy conservation and prompt them to increase their efforts.

Those who are ENERGY STAR certified are not dissatisfied either. 75% of ENERGY STAR recipients say they would recommend it to others and plan to re-certify their properties on an annual basis.

An additional benefit of ENERGY STAR certification aside from energy cost reductions is that it can lead to major savings for those looking to become LEED certified. ENERGY STAR is required for LEED certification, but those with a high enough ENERGY STAR score can qualify for free LEED credits. This can correlate with significant savings as fewer alterations and additions will be needed to attain LEED certification.

At Maximum Energy Professionals MEP we strive to help customers from both sides of this spectrum. Companies looking to get involved because of policies like California AB1103 or the San Francisco Department of Environments mandatory annual commercial building benchmarking program, as well as those just looking to evaluate their energy use profile, can all benefit from our ENERGY STAR benchmarking and certification services.

Maximum Energy Professionals MEP is a full service mechanical-electrical-plumbing (M-E-P) and energy conservation design firm, and is a certified California and Local Small Business Enterprise. At MEP sustainability is made simple and profitable for building owners and managers through strategic mechanical-electrical-plumbing design and expert energy audits. Using ASHRAE Level I & II energy audits and feasibility studies, we help our clients identify energy problem areas and reduce usage and costs. Our Property Condition Assessments allow real estate buyers to make informed purchases, and our expertise in ENERGY STAR and LEED certification make us your one stop shop for sustainability and mechanical engineering design.

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