In 2011, the U.S. Department of Energy launched its Better Buildings Initiative to encourage businesses, local governments, educational institutions, and other community members to cut down on their energy usage. Over 900 organizations have joined the initiative and are looking for ways to raise the energy efficiency of their buildings in a strategic, cost-effective manner. With increased energy efficiency, these organizations encounter lower energy costs and separate themselves as leaders on environmental issues of our day. Over 340 of these 900 institutions have taken the Better Buildings Challenge, which entails reducing the energy usage of their buildings by at least 20% within 10 years. Nearly two billion dollars have been saved since the onset of the project. Of note, many Tennessee organizations have gotten in the game:
At the beginning of 2016, the City of Chattanooga formally agreed to take the Better Buildings Challenge. Buildings that occupy over 2 million square feet of space have been and are currently undergoing energy efficiency renovations ever since the City drafted its Climate Action plan in 2009, setting goals on reducing energy waste and misuse. TVA and Chattanooga’s Electric Power Board (EPB) are among the community partners assisting the City in its goals to cut energy use and costs. Chattanooga’s Showcase project for the Better Buildings Challenge will be its downtown Public Library, as announced by Mayor Andy Berke this past December. Renovations to the forty year old building will include installation of LED lights and replacement of the HVAC system. From this one project alone, taxpayers can expect to save $60,000. The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Erlanger hospital are also joining the City in its Better Buildings Challenge, bringing the total square footage of partnered buildings to over 7 million.
In 2015, the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel entered into the Better Buildings Challenge, and improvements were soon to follow. By April 2017, Loews had reduced energy consumption by 22%, saving approximately $328,250 per year. Replacing outdated roofing over the ballroom, updating the chiller system, and modifying the electric system in the elevators are the main renovations the hotel employed. Upcoming changes to the Vanderbilt Loews’ thermostat system will help the staff decrease energy costs even more in the future. These changes by the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel are a part of a larger collective effort by the entire Loews company to make their hotels more sustainable.
In 2012, Knoxville became the first city in Tennessee to join the Better Buildings Challenge, aiming to lower its energy costs at least 20% by 2020. More private companies with headquarters in Tennessee, such as Nissan North America, International Paper, and Wesley Housing are also partaking in the challenge, with Nissan having already met its goal of 25% baseline reduction in energy intensity. Sewanee led private higher education institutions in joining the Better Buildings Challenge in 2016 as a complement to the goals expressed in its 2013 Sustainability Master Plan.
More information about DOE’s Better Buildings Challenge can be found at https://betterbuildingssolutioncenter.energy.gov/. Specific details on the Loews renovations can be read here: https://betterbuildingssolutioncenter.energy.gov/beat-blog/reducing-energy-use-and-improving-guest-experience-at-vanderbilt-hotel. More information on Chattanooga’s energy efficiency efforts can be found here: https://betterbuildingssolutioncenter.energy.gov/partners/chattanooga-tn.