MILWAUKEE — Efficient buildings, those that make productive use of natural, human, and financial resources, are vital to achieving sustainable development. They align economic, social, and environmental opportunities, creating so-called triple-bottom-line benefits.

That was the main takeaway from a keynote address recently delivered by Clay Nesler, vice president, global energy and sustainability, building efficiency, Johnson Controls Inc., at the fourth Georgetown University Energy Prize workshop at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In his address, “Accelerating Building Efficiency,” Nesler highlighted a recent report from the World Resource Institute’s Ross Center for Sustainable Cities that outlines eight actions urban leaders can take to improve energy efficiency in buildings. The actions fall into the following categories: building efficiency codes and standards; efficiency improvement targets; performance information and certifications; incentives and finance; government leadership by example; private building owner, manager, and occupant engagement; technical and financial service provider engagement; and working with utilities.

Johnson Controls Inc. works closely with local governments and other entities to evaluate and implement those actions as part of an overall energy-efficiency strategy.

“Why care about buildings?” Nesler asked some 40 members of Midwest communities who attended the workshop. “One is there’s a very large impact. Forty percent of our energy and a third of our greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions globally are attributable to buildings, but it’s even higher in major urban areas. The good news is, with current technology and practices, we have the potential to reduce energy use by a third.

“Urban leaders should adopt an integrated set of policies and programs, such as creating demand for energy-efficiency retrofits while addressing the available supply of financing and incentives,” he added. Cities that take an integrated approach tend to make more progress than cities focused on one or two separate initiatives.

In addition to the keynote address, attendees heard presentations from the University of Wisconsin and several communities competing for the Georgetown University Energy Prize.

Faramarz Vakili, director of operations, maintenance, and utilities, University of Wisconsin-Madison, discussed the university’s “We Conserve” campaign, which has reduced energy consumption by more than 25 percent and eliminated 287,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions since 2006. In addition, the university has reduced water use by 42 percent during the same time frame.

“The university has several agendas,” Vakili said. “One is to actually be efficient in our operations, whether the motive is environmental stewardship, student education, or saving money. We are a huge community, and we not only have a huge consumption of resources, but we also are responsible for educating 43,000 students who are going to be the parents, CEOs, and senators of tomorrow. So we have a responsibility to be the best we can be in the area of efficiency.”

Madison’s story is similar to the other 49 communities competing for the Georgetown prize. Collectively, those communities, which include colleges and universities, saved more than $64 million with their energy-efficiency plans and cut more than 330,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions. It’s the equivalent of permanently taking one car off the street every five minutes.

“That’s what I see when I look at the numbers in Georgetown,” said Francis Slakey, executive director of the Georgetown University Energy Prize. “Though, when I come to Madison or any of the other workshops, I get to see the people behind the numbers and the transformative impact of energy efficiency.”

For more information on how Madison and other Midwest communities are embracing energy efficiency, visit

Publication date: 11/14/2016

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