It's time for a renovation revolution

Kelley Beamer, Cascadia Green Building Council

As Cascadia Green Building Council’s Oregon Advocacy and Outreach Manager, Kelley Beamer works with the state’s sustainability community to create a positive environmental influence through the built environment. You can reach her at or 503-228-5533.

Anyone first learning the ropes of green building is usually presented with a few sobering facts:

No. 1: The U.S. building sector consumes nearly half (49 percent) of all energy produced in the United States.

No. 2: Seventy-seven percent of the U.S. electricity supply is used just to operate buildings.

And No. 3: Buildings are the largest contributor to climate change.

In 2009 the building sector was responsible for nearly half (46.9 percent) of U.S. CO2 emissions, according to the Environmental Information Administration. This 1-2-3 punch paints a grim picture of the waste generated as we heat, cool and light our existing building stock. Really, it is these hard facts that motivated the start of green building movement.

Interestingly enough, however, the green building movement has been largely focused on new construction to address these serious issues by building green from the ground up. Less talked about is the green building frontier in our existing building stock.

Existing buildings are crucial in that they contain the architectural stories of our cities and provide some of the most beautiful and inspiring elements of our cities. The excitement of a flashy new green building will almost always get a front-page story, while a renovation is somehow less interesting. Yet since new buildings only account for 1.5 percent of all buildings, the greatest opportunity for really making an immediate impact on greenhouse gas reduction is tackling the existing built environment.

Some bold property owners are taking the lead on this renovation revolution. For example, New York’s Empire State building, completed in 1931, has recently undergone deep energy retrofits. The owner of the Empire State building spearheaded the renovations, in partnership with the Clinton Climate Initiative.

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