Last week, Better Buildings Challenge partners and others discussed how these organizations are successfully making energy efficiency a key part of how they do business. | Photo courtesy of Monica Neukomm, Energy Department.

The Better Buildings Initiative -- announced by President Obama in 2011 -- is a bold initiative designed to make commercial and industrial buildings 20 percent more energy efficient by 2020 and catalyze a revolutionary change in energy use across U.S. buildings. Tremendous progress has been made through the Better Buildings Initiative in a short time -- billions of dollars are being invested, market leaders have taken the Better Buildings Challenge, and innovative work is being done and measured in the financial, utility and government sectors.

Last week, the White House held a meeting on the Better Buildings Initiative and invited partners in the Better Buildings Challenge and others to talk about the solutions that are working, and how these organizations are successfully making energy efficiency a key part of how they do business. There are now more than 110 organizations partnering with the Energy Department in the Better Buildings Challenge -- as well as financial and utility firms working as Challenge Allies. Market leaders from sectors including commercial building owners, schools, universities, hotels, hospitals, retailers, manufacturers, and city and state governments have taken the challenge to reduce portfolio-wide energy use 20 percent by 2020 and share their successful strategies with others in the marketplace -- as replicable solutions for others to use.

One of my favorite parts of the meeting was listening as these market leaders talk about their success in driving greater energy efficiency and the ingenuity they are using to save hundreds of thousands – and sometimes millions of dollars -- for their bottom line. A few examples:

Alcoa, a major aluminum producer, is linking leadership performance pay to achieving incremental energy efficiency targets. Making energy performance a factor in financial compensation increases the likelihood that senior managers will make efficiency a priority even amid the myriad other demands on their time and attention.

HEI Hotels and Resorts has created an innovative energy management tracking tool for its buildings to help track energy savings and identify areas for improvement. As partners in the Challenge, the company is sharing this ability to track energy use and compare use across facilities. It also facilitates employee-led change by encouraging teamwork to meet company goals.

TIAA-CREF has added sustainability metrics to the existing property governance scorecard -- part of a formal performance assessment of third-party property managers -- to increase the visibility of energy and water use of its third-party-managed assets. Now, TIAA-CREF is better able to document costs, estimate savings associated with improvement projects and verify that projected results are achieved.

The District of Columbia is working in three key areas: a community-wide planning initiative, driving policy change (through tools like benchmarking legislation and disclosure, and the creation of a sustainable energy utility), and public-private partnerships including partnering with D.C.’s downtown business district to work directly with building owners.

AFL-CIO is committed to the rebuilding of American infrastructure and buildings, particularly through enhancing the energy performance for all of its buildings. The AFL-CIO is focusing on three areas: providing skilled and ready tradesmen, directing its pension investment funds to invest in energy efficiency building retrofits, and retrofitting its own buildings -- starting with its historical headquarters building.

These were just a few of the updates from partners. The meeting also allowed stakeholders and partners to exchange ideas and solutions, and focus on next steps for this partnership effort. Among our plans are to continue working with partners and stakeholders to:

  • Develop innovative, replicable solutions with market leaders,
  • Make energy-efficient investment easier,
  • Develop a skilled clean energy workforce, and
  • Provide federal leadership by example.

One of the next activities in the Better Buildings Challenge is coming up! In March, the Energy Department is engaging the nation’s brightest students in the second annual Better Buildings Case Competition. This competition presents university students with case studies that mimic real-world challenges facing our Better Buildings Challenge partners and asks students to devise solutions to be used as models by businesses and other organizations across the marketplace. By solving these complex problems, students gain real-life experience while contributing to our nation’s energy security and global competitiveness.

We are proud of the progress underway through the Better Buildings Initiative (a progress report on 2012 can be found at We are even more excited for the upcoming year. Stay tuned!