Energy efficiency advocates are hopeful that a new Biden administration coalition to promote and strengthen building performance standards could accelerate federal, state and local efforts to reduce carbon emissions from buildings. 

Thirty-three cities, states and local governments have signed on to participate in the National Building Performance Standards Coalition, announced by the White House on Jan. 21. The group will work to develop frameworks and policies to be able to implement local and state performance standards in their communities. 

Mark Chambers, senior director of building emissions and community resilience in the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said in a statement that the coalition “represents a uniquely impactful climate action opportunity for states, cities and their partners across the country to rally together in an effort to decarbonize our existing buildings.”  

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy will provide participants with technical assistance, policy analysis and implementation tools, as well as opportunities for funding through a variety of vehicles, including DOE’s Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grant program. 

The White House also says it wants to ensure that environmental justice issues are a consideration in performance standards development and implementation. DOE has put out a request for proposals to “embed” energy justice into its technical and other assistance for the coalition participants. Announcements of awardees will be made sometime this spring.  

Across the globe, buildings are a significant greenhouse gas emitter, contributing nearly 40% of carbon emissions annually, according to Architecture 2030, a nonprofit focused on addressing climate change. Though building performance standards are still relatively new, more and more local governments are adopting them, including New York City, Washington D.C., Denver, and St. Louis, as well as the State of Washington. But none of them have been fully implemented so far, according to EPA. The standards create a variety of pathways for building owners to reduce emissions over time by retrofitting or constructing new buildings to make them more efficient and to meet gradually more stringent target reductions over set intervals. 

The Institute for Market Transformation, working closely with other groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, the People’s Climate Innovation Center, the Bloomberg Cities Project and the Kresge Foundation, has been a leading advocate for energy efficiency and the implementation of building performance standards. Lotte Schlegel, IMT’s executive director, says the creation of a national coalition to promote performance standards sends a strong signal that building energy efficiency is a vital tool for use in addressing climate change. 

“The climate crisis is here,” she says. “Community members on the frontlines of climate change are bearing the consequences of inaction most acutely.” Coalition participants will have an opportunity to “co-design climate and building performance policies in ways that address historic inequities while reducing carbon emissions, lowering energy bills, creating jobs and making healthier places for everyone.” 

Montgomery County, Md., one of the coalition members, was one of the first counties in the U.S. to develop legislation and complementary policies for a performance standard, though the legislation has not yet cleared the county council. Lindsey Shaw, manager of energy and sustainability programs in the county’s Dept. of Environmental Protection, says she is hopeful the coalition gives the county “a platform to talk to peer jurisdictions and share lessons learned,” as well as “activating technical assistance for both local jurisdictions and building owners that they are going to need through this process.”  

Marc Elrich (D), the county’s executive, concurs that working with other coalition partners will be a valuable way to exchange information and learn about innovative ways of doing things. But he’s frustrated that the building performance standard legislation, a popular policy with little to no opposition, has languished at the county council for nearly a year. The county has an aggressive plan to address climate change. “If we don’t pass BPS, we don’t achieve our climate change goals,” he says.