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Crowdsourcing Local Knowledge to Make Buildings More Efficient
Mumbai, India and Building Efficiency

Because buildings in world cities like Mumbai, India (pictured) produce more than 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, improving building efficiency is critical to making cities more sustainable. Photo by Simone D. McCourtie/World Bank.

Investing in resource efficiency helps cities and their residents by cutting energy and water costs, creating jobs and creating cleaner, healthier air. And making cities more resource efficient is critical to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and combating climate change. Improving the energy and water performance of buildings is a critical piece of the puzzle. Globally, buildings consume nearly 40 percent of the world’s energy and produce more than 30 percent of emissions. In many cities these numbers are even higher: 67 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Seoul, South Korea result from buildings’ energy use.

However, city leaders often don’t know where to start. They may not fully understand the connection between building efficiency improvements, healthier citizens and a more competitive economy. Even if they do, they often lack data about buildings’ energy use, so they don’t have critical information about performance and potential areas for improvement. In addition, it can be challenging to balance the interests of different stakeholders when developing new policies.

Bringing Decision Makers Together to Overcome Barriers to Action

To address these challenges, the Building Efficiency Accelerator of the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) initiative uses a variety of methods—including interactive workshops—to help city leaders learn about potential policy options and think realistically about implementation. Some workshops use visual tools to gather input from diverse participants in order to determine which policies are the most important and feasible in their city.

A wide variety of policy options exist that can be used to improve building efficiency, but they can be difficult to sort through. The Building Efficiency Accelerator helps participants identify strategies appropriate for their city from a menu of options:

  • Codes and standards: Policies that establish minimum requirements for energy-related design characteristics of buildings or their components.
  • Building energy targets: Aligning decision-makers toward a common objective, encouraging accountability, and spurring actions to improve energy performance in building operations.
  • Performance information and certifications: Data, baselines, transparency, and certifications indicating building performance.
  • Finance and incentives: Credit or capital to provide funding or improve the economic case for building efficiency improvements.
  • Government leadership: Programs to support government efficiency and demonstrate action, including public building retrofits and innovative procurement.
ICLEI 2015 World Congress Building Efficiency Accelerator

Participants in a workshop at the 2015 ICLEI World Congress in Seoul Korea engaged one another with visual tools to discuss policy options to improve building efficiency. Photo by ICLEI.

While technical know-how can be a challenge to improving buildings efficiency, almost universally the human barriers prove even greater. Workshops can bring together diverse stakeholders in a city to develop partnerships and draw on the expertise of businesses and residents. Going through exercises to help articulate the perspective stakeholders can not only strengthen support for action on resource efficiency, but also allow city decision makers to tap into local knowledge and identify solutions to meet the unique needs of their community. Engagement and partnership alone don’t guarantee success, but a structured workshop can help build momentum for concrete action both immediately and in the long-term.

An Example Workshop on the Global Stage

At a training workshop hosted by partners to the Accelerator earlier this month at the 2015 ICLEI World Congress in Seoul, participants learned about one workshop toolthat can be applied in any city to develop locally appropriate building efficiency solutions. About 50 attendees at the World Congress—local governments, businesses, and NGOs from around the world—provided their perspectives on each of these policy options. Participants were asked to rank the five policies in terms of importance and difficulty of implementation, given the context of their different cities. On average, there was agreement that all of the policies were very important or extremely important. However, while some polices—like government leadership—were considered relatively easy to implement, others—like codes and standards—were considered even more important but more difficult to put in place. The result of the exercise was a realistic picture of the policy priorities of the group and a roadmap for action—from those that can be effectively implemented in the short term to those that are essential in the long term.

Building Efficiency Policy Map

The result of the workshop at the 2015 World Congress, this graph shows how stakeholders evaluated various policy options in terms of both importance and difficulty of implementation. Graphic by Eric Mackres.

While these results only provide us with a broad sense of the priorities of this particular global group, and not insights for any specific city, the World Congress workshop demonstrated how this exercise can be used to work with stakeholders in any city to identify locally appropriate actions. Different actions may be prioritized in different cities, but regardless of where this framework is applied, the exercise can provide a roadmap for action. Additionally, going through this exercise can help to identify competencies, clarify interests, create a common vision, and build partnerships. While follow-up engagement and coordination are necessary to achieve measurable results, this process of prioritization can serve as a critical first step toward more efficient buildings and cleaner cities.

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