For almost 25 years, ENERGY STAR and USGBC have joined forces to deliver more energy-efficient products, homes, and businesses. The results are all around us.

Thrive Homebuilders developed Hyland Village in Westminster, Colorado, where the homes are certified Zero Energy Ready by the Department of Energy.
Robert and Kathleen Merkley purchased the 10,000th Salt River Project (SRP) ENERGY STAR home in central Arizona.

In 1992, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched a revolutionary program: a completely voluntary energy efficiency rating system for everyday home products. Instead of regulating the manufacturers of toasters, boilers, and air conditioners, the ENERGY STAR program grew its market through environmental awareness and the promise of lower utility bills.


The following year, 60 firms and a few nonprofit organizations gathered at the American Institute of Architects in Washington, D.C., for the first meeting of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). While ENERGY STAR sought more energy-efficient home products, USGBC wanted a holistic rating system for energy-efficient homes and commercial buildings.


ENERGY STAR rolled out its energy performance systems for buildings in 1995, and when USGBC launched Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) in 2000, the two programs brought energy-efficient, sustainable design to the mainstream.


“The evolution of the market has been centered around expanding expectations,” says Brendan Owens, chief of engineering at USGBC. “On making sure people are focused on outcomes that are more integrated than just, ‘What is the cheapest building I can build that satisfies the square footage and safety requirements?’ From a developer’s standpoint, that’s not enough anymore. It never was.”


Verizon’s Basking Ridge Operations Center in New Jersey has earned LEED Silver certification for its energy-efficient design.

Verizon’s Basking Ridge Operations Center in New Jersey has earned LEED Silver certification for its energy-efficient design.

Before ENERGY STAR and LEED, the prospect of paying more for an energy-efficient product or building was a nonstarter. But ENERGY STAR’s early market presence created “energy-efficiency advocates,” Owens says, and its brand recognition familiarized contractors and consumers with the energy and costs savings of LEED-certified buildings.


“The fact that there was a ready-made, industry-understood benchmark for us to leverage made our job easier,” says Owens.


ENERGY STAR and LEED have since become industry standards in energy efficiency and sustainability, respectively. More than 1.3 million homes have been ENERGY STAR certified since the program began. USGBC has seen a global boom in LEED registrations and certifications, with more than 90,000 LEED projects covering 19.1 billion square feet in 165 countries and territories. The two programs lead a green building industry that will account for more than one-third of construction jobs in the U.S. by 2018, and contribute more than $300 billion to GDP, according to a 2015 Economic Impact Study by USGBC, which was conducted by Booz Allen Hamilton.


The programs have also significantly reduced the environmental impacts of homes, businesses, and industries across the U.S. and the world. Twenty-five years after its launch, ENERGY STAR has saved consumers $430 billion on energy costs and prevented greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 350 million vehicles.


LEED-certified buildings have been proven to use less energy and cost less to operate. Since 2000, LEED projects have diverted more than 80 million tons of waste from landfills, and by 2030 that number is expected to grow to 540 million tons.


Businesses in all aspects of real estate—developers, contractors, landlords, and homeowners­­—now seek both ENERGY STAR and LEED certifications for their projects. The two work in tandem to create spaces that are not just energy efficient, but improve the health, well-being, and productivity of occupants.


ENERGY STAR certification assesses a building’s energy use intensity (EUI), or the amount of energy consumed per square foot. That measure is compared to national data for buildings of similar use and size to create an ENERGY STAR performance score of 1-100. To earn ENERGY STAR certification, a building must achieve a score of 75 or higher, meaning it outperforms 75 percent of buildings when it comes to energy use.


LEED also takes into account energy efficiencies verified by ENERGY STAR’s certification. But LEED goes beyond energy use, layering in benchmarks for broader impacts on the environment and occupants such as indoor air and lighting quality, water-efficient heating and cooling, rainwater capture, sustainably sourced building materials, landfill waste diversion, and even proximity to public transportation, recreation, and green space.

Bikeworks Shop in Seattle uses a Big Ass Isis Fan to cool its shop. The fan weighs less than 100 pounds and delivers the same energy efficiency as larger fans to smaller facilities.

Brendan Owens of USGBC.

Brendan Owens of USGBC.

The holistic combination of energy efficiency and sustainability means tenants and homeowners are willing to pay more for ENERGY STAR and LEED-certified buildings. In Los Angeles, a CoStar report found that while conventional buildings command an average of $2.16/square foot, tenants were willing to pay $2.69/square foot for ENERGY STAR certified buildings and $2.91/square foot for LEED-certified spaces.


Of course, utility savings and salability are just part of the picture. LEED-certified workplaces can decrease worker healthcare costs and increase their productivity. A U.S. Department of Energy study found that improving indoor air quality in a building reduces communicable respiratory diseases by 9 to 20 percent. And companies that adopt rigorous environmental standards are associated with 16 percent higher worker productivity, according to the Journal of Organizational Behavior.


For 2017 ENERGY STAR Award winners Verizon, Big Ass Solutions, EnergyLogic, Inc., and Salt River Project, the benefits of ENERGY STAR and LEED are well known. All four won the prestigious 2017 ENERGY STAR Award, and all four use ENERGY STAR and LEED to improve energy efficiency and sustainability for their companies and customers.


Dialing in the Savings

Christian Taber of Big Ass Solutions.

Christian Taber of Big Ass Solutions.

“Our utility bills are a huge annual expense item, so anything we can do to reduce our energy consumption is a good thing,” says Pam McKay, senior analyst for real estate operations at Verizon. “And since we have so many customers going into our retail stores across the country, we want to make those spaces as comfortable as we can, which is where LEED comes in, using materials that are better for the environment and for our customers.”


Verizon, a Gold-level member of USGBC, won the ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year Award for Sustained Excellence in Energy Management. The company operates more than 1,000 retail locations, and it made a public commitment to seeking ENERGY STAR certification for 100 percent of its eligible stores. Currently, the wireless giant has more than 220 ENERGY STAR certified buildings and more than 320 LEED-certified buildings. More than 30 stores are certified through both programs.


Verizon’s 1.4-million-sq-ft operations center in Basking Ridge, N.J., is also both ENERGY STAR certified and LEED Silver. The building uses temperature sensors and energy management systems to monitor heating, ventilation, and air conditioning performance. The company controls the facility’s lighting schedules; tracks maintenance and service requirements; uses air handlers with variable frequency drives for energy-efficient heating and cooling; and has installed energy-efficient light-emitting diode and fluorescent T-5 lights. The building also includes a SunPower 374KW photovoltaic system and five ClearEdge Power PureCell 400KW fuel cell systems totaling 2.0MW of power.


Those commitments to ENERGY STAR and LEED are paying off in more than bottom line energy savings at Verizon. In 2016, the company reached its long-term goal of reducing its carbon intensity by 50 percent, four years ahead of schedule. And Verizon is using the programs’ clout to help it stand out from the competition.


“One of the great things that both ENERGY STAR and LEED give,” says McKay, “is a tool to showcase our buildings and locations that are doing well. It helps us know where we are, not just compared to other Verizon buildings, but compared to the entire industry. So, the bar is always being raised.”


Big Ass Solutions brings cooling comfort to Goodfellas Pizzeria in Lexington, Kentucky.

Big Ass Solutions brings cooling comfort to Goodfellas Pizzeria in Lexington, Kentucky.

Keeping Cows Cool

Competition for green bragging rights has helped make ENERGY STAR and LEED successful across industries, and it’s been a motivating force at Big Ass Solutions, a Silver-level member of USGBC, since the company built its first “Big Ass” fans for Kentucky dairy barns in 1999.


These days, Big Ass Solutions does much more than keep cows comfortable. The Lexington, Kentucky based company builds energy-efficient fans and lighting for homes and industry, from agriculture to aviation, sports venues to restaurants and commercial spaces. It won the 2017 ENERGY STAR Excellence Award for Product Design, and 100 percent of its eligible fans were ENERGY STAR certified in 2016.


Christian Taber, principal engineer for codes and standards at Big Ass Solutions, says ENERGY STAR and LEED provide trusted, third-party validation for the company’s products and buildings.


“They allow us to quantify and give us the ability to say, ‘I built this energy-efficient product or building, and there it is,’” says Taber. “We take a lot of pride when our name comes up over and over again as the most energy-efficient products.”


Big Ass Solutions’ own facilities are a case study in the cooperative potential of ENERGY STAR and LEED. In 2009, the company opened a state-of-the-art, LEED Gold research and development laboratory. The 44,000-sq-ft facility is designed for the unique requirements and challenges of testing fans that are up to 24 feet in diameter. The ceilings are 60 feet high, and heavy curtains divide the space into quadrants and retract for testing the company’s largest fans. Inside, engineers build full-scale replicas of classrooms, offices, residential rooms, and warehouses to measure airflow and distribution in real-life scenarios.


The company used its own ENERGY STAR certified fans to achieve LEED credits on the project, including Minimum Energy Performance; Optimize Energy Performance; Minimum IAQ (indoor air quality) Performance; Increased Ventilation; Thermal Comfort, Design; and Innovation in Design. The building now uses 35 percent less energy than a non-LEED building and 58 percent less water, and its construction sent 51 percent less waste to landfill.


When installing Big Ass products for clients, Taber and his crew take a similar approach. Over the years, more than 40 Big Ass Solutions team members have achieved LEED Green Associate credentials, ensuring that fans and lighting work in harmony with clients’ ENERGY STAR and LEED-certified buildings.


“For us, making a great ceiling fan is one thing, but that fan needs to be part of a bigger system,” says Taber. “The building side of ENERGY STAR and LEED tells us if we fit well into the overall design strategy to provide the lowest EUI or dollars per square foot or CO2 per square foot, whatever the metric.”


EnergyLogic’s director of marketing Jala Curtis.

EnergyLogic’s director of marketing Jala Curtis.

Train, Measure, Repeat

The task of predicting and measuring those metrics falls to companies such as EnergyLogic, Inc., winner of the 2017 ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year Award for Sustained Excellence for Home Energy Rater. To date, the company has verified 22,000 ENERGY STAR certified homes and almost 1,000 LEED-certified homes in its home state of Colorado. Last year, Colorado built nearly 4,000 ENERGY STAR certified homes and 16 million square feet of LEED-certified space, placing second on USGBC’s annual Top Ten States for LEED.


In addition to home ratings and energy audits, EnergyLogic is an official LEED education provider and has a team of LEED APs that train developers and contractors to meet LEED certification benchmarks. The company estimates it saves Colorado consumers more than $5.6 million annually and reduces yearly carbon dioxide emissions by 132,000 tons.


While investing in an ENERGY STAR or LEED-certified home used to be for those with “deep pockets,” says Jala Curtis, director of marketing at EnergyLogic, public awareness has changed that dynamic. “Over time, consumers have become more educated, understanding that long term, it’s not only going to help with the value of their homes but also decrease their utility costs and make for a cleaner environment,” says Curtis. “In our work in residential space, we often work on certifying compliance pathways for both ENERGY STAR and LEED certification on the same project.”


EnergyLogic worked with USGBC to pilot a streamlined LEED for Building Design and Construction: Homes and Multifamily Lowrise certification for production builders who participate in the Department of Energy’s Zero Energy Ready Home Alternative Compliance Path program (DOE ZERH ACP). The DOE’s program requires ENERGY STAR certification as well as the EPA’s Indoor airPLUS and WaterSense certifications, meeting many, but not all, prerequisites of LEED.

Theodore Roosevelt Dam was originally constructed between 1905 and 1911 to control the erratic flow of the Salt River and to harness the water for irrigation.
Theodore Roosevelt Dam and the Roosevelt Lake it forms are considered perhaps the crowning achievements of SRP. Photo: Sara Robinson

The new production builder protocol means builders can bank the points associated with each program and apply them, along with some gap-filling measures, to LEED BD+C: Homes certification. The goal is to help production builders bring LEED’s holistic design standards—from energy efficiency to water conservation to indoor air quality and waste management—to the buyers.


Denver-based Thrive Home Builders was the first to pilot the USGBC production builder protocol that EnergyLogic spearheaded. The company builds some 240 homes each year, and they used the DOE ZERH ACP points to achieve LEED Silver for two new model homes in Westminster, Colorado. The builder now plans to use the same process to certify all of its new homes under LEED v4, building spaces that are energy efficient and sustainably sourced and that provide a healthy indoor environment.


For Gene Myers, CEO of Thrive Home Builders, the decision to seek both ENERGY STAR and LEED certification came down to his customers.


“There are lots of reasons builders give for not doing these programs,” says Myers. “But the market is way ahead of the industry. Our customers are looking for purchases of all kinds—from food to homes—and they’re voting with their dollars for products that are constructed in ways that are aligned with their values.”



Sharon Bonesteel of the Salt River Project.

Delivering a Message

From the outset, ENERGY STAR and USGBC have understood the need for exponential market growth to make a meaningful impact on our natural and built environments. Companies such as the Arizona-based Salt River Project (SRP), the nation’s third largest public power utility, have been invaluable in that process.


SRP won the 2017 ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year Award for Sustained Excellence in Energy Efficiency Program Delivery. The company delivers a wide spectrum of energy to clients, including solar, natural gas, nuclear, hydro, biofuel, and geothermal energy. It is also one of the largest raw-water suppliers in Arizona, delivering about 800,000 acre-feet of water annually to a 375-sq-mi service area and managing a 13,000-sq-mi watershed.


But it’s SRP’s energy efficiency training and education that has changed Arizonans’ understanding of the value of energy-efficient buildings. The utility educates jurisdictions, developers, and residents about energy-efficiency codes and the environmental and economic payoffs of ENERGY STAR and LEED certification. They also help contractors navigate their way through constructing buildings that meet those certifications’ rigorous standards. “These energy efficiency certifications work together to help builders and customers find the right path for their project,” says Sharon Bonesteel, senior policy analyst at SRP. “That’s why the [credentialed] designers are so important. They can look at those different paths and find the one that makes the most sense for their project.”


Since 2013, SRP has helped builders and homeowners achieve ENERGY STAR certification for more than 23,000 homes, saving almost 345,000 MWh of energy. The driving force behind those numbers is SRP’s ENERGY STAR incentives, which have increased buy-in from towns, developers, and residents across Arizona. That buy-in drives down the price of sustainable design and construction. “The purpose of the rebates is to move the market and execute a plan where the result is higher demand for energy-efficient products and certifications,” says Bonesteel.


Next year, SRP plans to implement a LEED incentives program to help builders and homeowners “kick energy efficiency up to the next level,” she says, rewarding sustainable design elements like orienting a building to take advantage of natural heating and cooling or locating a development near public transportation. And as builders field more questions from consumers about ENERGY STAR and LEED certifications, the Southwest’s market for sustainable design and construction will continue to grow.


That march toward greater energy efficiency—a journey tied to an educated and values-based consumer marketplace—has been the cornerstone of ENERGY STAR and of USGBC for nearly a quarter of a century. And though government support for particular programs may ebb and flow, the market for sustainable design and construction moves steadily forward.