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May 05
Saving Green With Green Buildings

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Earth Day on April 22 was a reminder of all things that can go green — including energy, air quality, transportation, water quality, land use, purchasing and recycling.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ENERGY STAR program — a voluntary program that helps businesses, government entities and individuals — works towards saving money for its participants through energy efficiency.  Many people may recognize the ENERGY STAR label on electronics and appliances, but the program is not only for computers and refrigerators — commercial buildings and industrial plants can also get an ENERGY STAR certification.  ENERGY STAR certified buildings and plants are located in counties across the country, and additionally, many county governments have taken steps to reduce the energy consumption of their buildings, certify them and save money on energy and water use.

The EPA has a straightforward process for gaining an ENERGY STAR certification for buildings.  The first step is to use the Portfolio Manager, which is free software that tracks and reports a building’s water and energy use.  Once the user enters the characteristics of the building in the Portfolio Manager such as square footage, weekly operating hours, and monthly energy and water consumption data, the Portfolio Manager creates metrics on energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.  In addition, buildings may also receive a 1 – 100 ENERGY STAR rating, which compares the user’s building to buildings with similar primary use.  A score of 50 indicates that the building is an average performer, while a score of 75 or above indicates that the building is a top energy performer and it is eligible for ENERGY STAR certification.  As of April 2014, there are over 23,000 buildings across the country with an ENERGY STAR certification and the EPA estimates that the overall energy cost savings of these buildings were $2.7 billion by the end of 2012.

Recently, the EPA released their 2013 ranking of the top 25 cities with ENERGY STAR certified buildings.  Los Angeles, Calif. ranked as the number one city, with 443 ENERGY STAR certified buildings located in the city.  Not surprising, a large number of ENERGY STAR certified buildings (968 buildings, as of April 2014) are located in Los Angeles County, Calif., ranging from retail stores to courthouses. Office buildings account for nearly half of all the ENERGY STAR certified buildings located in Los Angeles County, while K-12 schools have the second largest share — 37 percent.  Los Angeles County has also certified its own buildings, which include office buildings and courthouses.  For example, the County of Los Angeles Internal Services Department headquarters building received an ENERGY STAR certification in 2010.  In other counties, different types of buildings represent the bulk of ENERGY STAR certified buildings.  For example, in Beaufort County, N.C. all four ENERGY STAR certified buildings in the county are supermarkets.

County governments are also taking the initiative to improve energy efficiency in their own buildings.  As of April 2014, there are 229 county-owned buildings ENERGY STAR certified, including office buildings, courthouses and warehouses.  For example, the first county courthouse to gain an ENERGY STAR certification is North Regional Courthouse in Broward County, Fl., which earned its certification in 1999.  More recently, the Benjamin Building, a county-owned office building in Ada County, Idaho, earned an ENERGY STAR certification in 2014.  Ada County was also the first county to earn an ENERGY STAR rating through NACo’s 2004 ENERGY STAR Courthouse Campaign for the Ada County Courthouse and Administration Building.  The courthouse earned a certification largely due to its design; the building features many environmentally friendly measures including a geothermal heating system, insulated ductwork, window tinting and energy efficient lighting.  The building achieved a rating of 76 when it first earned its certification in 2004, and the labelled rating has increased to 82 in 2012.

To help counties save taxpayer money and protect the environment, NACo’s Green Government Initiative (GGI) provides information through the County Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Portal, which includes a number of resources to help counties make energy investments.  The portal contains links to news articles and presentations related to county energy efficiency initiatives as well as tools that counties can use to finance, install and promote clean energy.  In addition, NACo has partnered with the ENERGY STAR program and offers valuable tools and information to help counties better understand ENERGY STAR’s offerings.  NACo also offers assistance to county staff in using the Portfolio Manager tool to track and measure energy consumption in county buildings.

By improving energy efficiency in their buildings, counties across the country are practicing good stewardship of their resources and reducing energy costs.  NACo’s Green Government Initiative helps counties deliver on their energy efficiency initiatives.  For more information on the location of the ENERGY STAR certified buildings, visit ENERGY STAR’s Building Locator:


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