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In Focus: High-Performance Buildings Save Energy, Improve Effectiveness

November 2011
Building owners and operators have started to embrace high-performance building technologies and practices that save energy, reduce operating costs, and improve environmental performance. High-performance building concepts also create a safe, comfortable, and efficient environment that enables building occupants to be more productive and helps organizations achieve their missions.

While many new buildings are being designed using high-performance building principles, the greatest potential lies in applying this proven approach to improve the performance of existing facilities. According to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), existing buildings account for about 30 percent of total U.S. energy consumption and a sizeable share of greenhouse gas emissions.

Effective site selection offers the best opportunity to conserve natural resources, protect the environment, and enhance a facility's performance features. However, much can be addressed in existing buildings that will offset site conditions that cannot be changed.

Key Performance Measures
Both new and existing structures can be operated to meet established standards for key performance measures including energy and water consumption, building systems reliability, and environmental impact. These standards are set, measured, and continually validated to deliver established outcomes that are directly linked to an organization's primary mission and, most importantly, to its operational, financial, and customer-service objectives.

For example, reliability standards for an office building could take the impact of a heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) system failure and its disruption on normal operations into account. Comfort standards for a shopping center might consider the optimum temperature range needed to create a pleasant shopping experience. Indoor air quality standards in a healthcare setting could be established to restrict the movement of airborne pathogens and support infection-control standards.

The technologies and operating practices that enable high-performance facilities have advanced in recent years, along with a sharper focus on total costs, energy efficiency, and sustainability. Achieving the full potential of high-performance buildings requires a whole building, whole lifecycle approach that recognizes the fact that energy and other operating costs represent 60-85 percent of total costs over a building's occupied life, according to the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS).

Many Benefits
Various studies show that high-performance buildings impact occupant health, welfare, and productivity. For example, a 2009 Michigan State University study found that work groups moving into LEED-certified offices improved their productivity. Hospitals that do a good job monitoring and controlling the facility's physical environment achieve better patient outcomes, according to the Center for Healthcare Design (CHCD). And the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says poor indoor air quality affects student and teacher comfort, health, concentration, performance, and attendance.

In addition, organizations with high-performance buildings usually find it easier to attract and retain customers, employees, investors, and tenants. In fact, a study by the CoStar group found that commercial buildings with LEED or Energy Star certification often charge higher rents, have higher occupancy rates, and command a higher market price . A well-designed, well-operated high-performance building is energy-efficient, durable, and environmentally responsible. It also is a strategic asset that helps an organization achieve its primary mission and pays for itself many times over during its long occupied life.

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