Clean energy is not the sole province of the federal government. Although the Obama administration included energy efficiency and clean energy in its platform, it is unclear how the new Trump administration will treat these policy issues.
Given the uncertainty of federal initiatives going forward, it is now more than ever incumbent upon the nation’s mayors to create and implement local rules on efficiency and clean energy. Data-driven initiatives on the local level, such as energy benchmarking, have proven useful for reducing cities’ energy consumption while ensuring sustainable real estate practices. These policies have the potential to benefit the environment, businesses, and citizens.
Right now, leaders across America are gathering in Washington, D.C., for the 85th annual winter meeting of the Conference of Mayors to discuss the most urgent issues facing cities—including energy. From the impact of climate change to the rising costs of utilities, energy use affects how families live and work in our cities. At a time when the federal government may be unwilling or unable to implement policies that would seriously improve energy efficiency and cost savings for families and building managers, all smart city officials must, as the saying goes, think globally and act locally.
One way for America’s mayors to immediately and easily make positive changes is to join the many federal, state, and city agencies, leading nonprofit organizations, and socially responsible investors who are paving the way for cities to thrive environmentally, socially, and economically. Nationally, about 40 percent of energy consumption comes from residential and commercial buildings. Not only does that impact the environment, but it’s also expensive. If we are going to change the way Americans use energy—and we need to, because our cities’ wellbeing is at stake—buildings are definitely a good place to start.
Around the country, laws mandating the measurement of buildings’ energy use—through a process called benchmarking—are becoming commonplace. Major nonprofits like the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Institute for Market Transformation are helping governments make their buildings’ leases contingent on sustainability improvements. And socially responsible investors are requiring sustainability plans before they provide their investees with any capital. This trend is fueling broader, mainstream interest from tech-savvy leaders and investors who see the opportunity to positively impact business and the environment while producing a substantial return on their investment.
In December, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and 18 other prominent investors formed Breakthrough Energy to invest at least $1 billion into clean-energy companies over the next 20 years, including companies focusing on buildings. CalPERS (California Public Employees’ Retirement System) is one of the biggest asset holders in the country: they too are embracing sustainability and efficiency, by reporting their assets’ benchmarking data to the world’s leading sustainability assessment organization, GRESB. They’re doing so because they want to make sure that all of their real estate assets meet the environmental, social, and governance standards that have become so important for investors around the country.