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4 Years of Building Energy Efficiency Across America

This morning, I had the pleasure of kicking off the Department of Energy’s Better Building Summit. It reminded me of the founding of Better Buildings four years ago. At that time, as we continued to recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression and were faced with a paralyzed Congress, President Obama made clear to his economic team that we were to look for more creative and durable ways to contribute to an accelerated economic recovery. 

The more work we did on this issue, the clearer it became that making buildings, plants and homes more energy efficient was a triple win — a win for jobs and economic growth; a win for businesses’ operating costs and bottom lines; and a win for our effort to reduce carbon emissions and fight climate change.

Cutting energy waste was a common sense solution when President Obama launched the Better Buildings program in 2011 — with the goal of improving the energy use of our nation’s commercial, industrial, residential, and public buildings by 20 percent over 10 years — and it still is. In fact, four years later, we have made tremendous progress.

  • We are on track to meet our energy savings goal. Leaders from schools, universities, hospitals, industry, cities, towns, commercial real estate, hotels, food service — across tens of thousands of buildings — are reducing energy consumption by more than 2 percent per year — right on target for 20 percent.
  • More than $10 billion has been committed to greater efficiency, with more than $4.5 billion invested in projects and $840 million saved since the program launched.
  • The number of Better Buildings Challenge partners has grown to more than 250 public and private organizations representing more than 3.5 billion square feet, 650 manufacturing plants, $5.5 billion in financing investments and one hundred multifamily housing partners.
  • Partners have avoided 5.8 million metric tons of carbon emissions — doing their part in the fight against climate change.

But there is still more work to do. That is why, earlier today, I announced that we are expanding the Better Buildings Challenge to include water savings. In buildings, water and energy use are often integrally linked. Using water more efficiently results in lower operating costs, a more reliable water supply, and improved water quality. It also takes energy to treat and transport water, so cutting water use saves energy.

Moving forward, DOE will be working with interested partners in the Better Buildings Challenge to make a water savings commitment that is aggressive for their own organization, including advancing data collection and analysis practices and sharing more solutions to common water-saving barriers. At a time when concerns about drought are at the forefront, it is important that we continue to look for innovative solutions like this one, while also staying true to what we know works.

That is why I also challenged each of the current Better Buildings partners to double the impact they are having and, in the next year, each recruit another organization to set the same aggressive goal of 20 percent energy savings — or more. That is what President Obama’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions and fight climate change is all about — the idea that each of us, nations, local governments, business and families must play our part to take on this global challenge and reject the false notion that we must choose between protecting our planet and growing our economy.

More information about Better Buildings, including the new announcements made at the Better Building Summit, is available in "Better Buildings: 2015 Progress Report" here.