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Green Building Industry Apoplectic Over NAIOP Commercial Energy Efficiency Study

Ed Mazria said that it was “meant to confuse the public and stall meaningful legislation, insuring that America remains dependent on foreign oil, natural gas and dirty conventional coal.” Lloyd Alter of Treehugger called it “one of the dumbest studies that has crossed our screen in a while.” Danielle Sacks at Fast Company wants to “make sure studies like these don’t make it past their press release.” So what, if anything, are we to make of ConSol’s study, prepared for NAIOP, which concluded that the best possible scenario for energy efficiency improvements to a hypothetical 4-story, 95,000-square-foot office building is 23 percent over the ASHRAE 90.1-2004 Energy Standard? While we continue to wait for more meaningful data about the performance of green buildings, I think the study suggests the danger- for both legislators and stakeholders- of relying on energy modeling of any kind as the basis for policymaking or who agree to assist a green building project in achieving certain energy reductions by the terms of their construction contracts.

As you may know, the NAIOP study evaluated a handful of energy efficiency measures as implemented across the same building type in three different U.S. climate zones in order to determine the feasibility of 30 to 50 percent reduction targets over ASHRAE 90.1. The energy model used in connection with the study considered enhanced wall and roof insulations, varying levels of exterior glazing, efficient windows, reduced air infiltration, reduced lighting power densities, efficient HVAC equipment; and photovoltaic electricity energy generation.

The results were as follows:

Chicago: 23 percent in energy savings; $188,523.45 cost increase; 8.8 year payback;

Baltimore: 21.5 percent in energy savings; $165,148.13 cost increase; 11 year payback;

Newport Beach: 15.8 percent in energy savings; $169,898.13 cost increase; 12.2 year payback.

In a press release detailing the results of the study, NAIOP president Thomas J. Bisacquino said that “[w]ith the results of achieving higher efficiency targets differing so greatly across the climate zones, the study reveals that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to mandatory energy reductions does not work in legislation or other mandates. It is important that policymakers and others realize the economic consequences that imposing mandated targets will have on the development industry.” As I noted above, many commentators decried the study’s methodology, arguing that it failed to consider numerous other energy efficiency strategies, including site orientation and other passive design techniques. For example, on his blog, Jerry Yudelson said that “It’s all about integrated design; that’s why NAIOP’s study is plain wrong as a general rule. You have to “build it in, not bolt it on, meaning that if you take a conventional building and attempt to add energy-savings features to standard design, it’s always going to be less and less cost-effective to go beyond, saving 15% more savings.”

Regardless of the resulting furor, I think it is important to note the study’s results for a few reasons. First, ConSol used the Department of Energy’s EnergyPlus Version 2.2 simulation tool in order to derive its results. The study was based on a projection and not actual data. Second, other studies promulgated by some of the organizations that decried the NAIOP study have also been heavily criticized. For example, as we noted last fall over at gbNYC, NBI’s highly touted study only obtained data from 22 percent of the LEED-certified buildings in the country, compared it to a national database (CBECS) that includes buildings dating from the early part of the 20th century, and then compared the median energy consumption for LEED buildings to the average of the pool of comparable buildings. This study was widely disseminated for the proposition that LEED buildings were performing 25 percent better than comparable buildings with respect to energy efficiency. Interestingly, according to CoStar, USGBC issued a statement in response to the NAIOP report that LEED-certified buildings are “proof-positive that you can achieve 30 percent and greater energy efficiency using integrated design with little or no additional first costs.” CoStar also quoted Dave Hewitt, executive director of the New Buildings Institute, that the study was “artificially constrained to suggest that you can’t get there from here.”

I don’t disagree that integrated design is green design and will likely lead to higher efficiencies, but I do think that one point to take from the NAIOP study, in the context of commercial real estate, is that passive solar design or other integrated design features that were mentioned in the response to the study may not be possible for certain types of building stock. Particularly here in New York City- or in the rest of the country where new construction has grinded to a halt- the “bolt it on” types of green improvements may be the only option. In that context, the NAIOP study may be particularly useful to policymakers who are considering mandating the 30 to 50 percent improvements in efficiency that the study was specifically contemplating. If those improvements are not possible, or are more difficult than many believe, design professionals, contractors, and consultants may also be exposing themselves to significant liability absent sufficiently protective language in their construction agreements. From the lawyer’s perspective, I think the critical points to take from all of this are that until we get studies that are grounded in actual performance-related data, it is dangerous to advocate for policies that are based on energy models. Moreover, I think it emphasizes the importance of transactional risk management – in the form of a fully vetted construction agreement- in connection with green building projects that aim for increasingly higher levels of energy efficiency.

While the results and merits of this particular study continue to be debated, what is clear that building performance, contracts, and risk management will intersect significantly as we move forward during the course of 2009. I am also curious to see what NAIOP’s reaction to the backlash will be – if any – and whether any building science experts (like Henry Gifford and Joseph Lstiburek, whose work we have referenced previously over at gbNYC) chime in.

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7 Responses to Green Building Industry Apoplectic Over NAIOP Commercial Energy Efficiency Study

  1. Christopher G. Hill March 10, 2009 at 2:20 pm #

    Always good to be able to use the word apoplectic in a sentence. Thanks for the update. This does not so much argue for fewer standards, but for more tailored standards in private contracts with proper safeguards.

    Thanks for the post.

  2. Mark Rabkin March 10, 2009 at 2:48 pm #

    Stephen –
    This is a great summary of a very confusing study. I read it last week and kept yelling at the screen as I got more and more frustrated with it’s “conclusions.” As Jerry Yudelson and his friendly competitor Bill Reed from ReGenesis ( recently confirmed, integrative (or integrated) design for construction projects is a unique approach by identifying stakeholder impact and performance goals at the earliest available opportunity in the construction process. This approach REQUIRES the input of not only the owner and architect, but the building scientists, mechanical, structural, and electrical engineers, risk management team, financial advisory team, employees & the community, etc. etc. etc…

    By bringing these people to the table early, project owners will establish specific, quantifiable goals that they will work to achieve throughout the process.

    The line that I particularly like is: “until we get studies that are grounded in actual performance-related data, it is dangerous to advocate for policies that are based on energy models.” This is straight from UV’s mouth! An objective statement that requires evidence to support conclusions.

    Great post!


  3. Marshall Leslie March 12, 2009 at 3:51 pm #

    “The lady doth protest too much, methinks” (Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 2, the Queen to Hamlet) …..

    Well, the protest in this case was predictable because every building is unique, bespoke and therefore (arguably) beyond modelling. However, if the alternative is to shutup and follow current versions of LEED then we’re all worse off. In large part, LEED’s success (BTW it hasn’t caught up to EnergyStar) can be accounted for by its “scalability”: a catalogue of rating systems; different levels of achievement; some points more easy to achieve than others; more points to be had in one area than another; and always recourse to a credit interpretation request. Enter LEED 2009 (the King of Denmark?)….

    The oldest national, energy-efficiency programmes in North America (R-2000 in my country and EnergyStar in yours) have relied heavily on the use of models and research. So, whatever one thinks of ConSol’s study, it is what it is – an analytical construct. The critics should now show us their models.

    The amusing thing amidst the furor is – wait for it – if any of these measures were to become the metric for a government energy-efficiency, sustainability, or building performance programme they would first have to be run through a policy model. So choose: Would you rather have a building scientist, or a micro-economist have first cut at your programme?

  4. Ujjval Vyas, Ph.D., J.D. March 13, 2009 at 5:10 am #


    Thanks for saying what many of us are thinking. I am often struck by the lack of serious examination of many of the studies that have been put out by green building advocates–the work of the USGBC, NBI, McGraw-Hill, NREL, Co-Star, GSA and others deeply vested in promulgating a particular brand of green building. The question is not whether this particular study by NAIOP is put out by folks with an ideological bias, rather it should simply be a detailed analysis of the study itself and its degree of usefulness. It is very much as you suggest, a case of protesting too much. The source of the ire is not that this is a bad study, but that it is a study by a large and powerful organization in the real estate industry that casts doubt on some of the shibboleths of the green building industry.

    Studies should be constructed (and can thus be crtiqued) in two basic ways. For a good study, both a robust and relevant data set(s) and a coherently structured methodological armature are necessary. In additon, one must be transparent with both the data set(s) and the methodology. There can be no black box gaming of the system (as for example the BEES tool from NIST). For example, the Greg Kats studies that are so often cited are clearly lacking in these basic elements to count as cognizable studies of value. The recent NBI study put out under the auspices of the USGBC suffers from fatal methodological flaws. Anyone in the sciences knows that added to these basic requirements is the additional necessity to repeat the study for any palusible viability. Given the economic circumstances which have resulted from the recent capitulation to access capitalism, it is best to remember that marketing hype only goes so far. It would be too bad if the realm of sustainable building also capitulated to a form of access capitalism buttressed by marketeering slogans of market transformation. Market transformation can often mean simply that a new set of folks are to reap the benefits of special access to power and revenue, not to mention legislating advantageous circumstances to create a governmentally sanctioned scheme to concentrate wealth in the hands of the few.

    For an example of an early, more thorough, study of a canoncial green building, the Lewis Center at Oberlin, please see the work of Scofield at The simple fact is that many of the studies in the area do not stand up to basic scrutiny and yet as long as they continue to provide succor for various ideologically based positions about green buildings, they are allowed to stand, and in many cases, thrive.

    This is a much larger problem related to the politicization of science and the basic way in which vested interests of all political persuasions seek to control information flows. Any studies or information that casts doubt on the validity of the chosen way is to be vilified or demonized. A rather sad outcome and certainly not, I think, the dominant sentiment of many of those that see sustainable buildngs, design, construction and planning as an ethical calling demanding real creativity, honesty, and serious questioning of the status quo. By the way, without a thorough economic, technical/building science, and legal/risk management analysis, no meaningful policy in this area can be implemented.

  5. Detefforb March 18, 2010 at 6:15 am #

    My old one is no good any more, has anyone ever bought one of these:


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