How can high-performance buildings be delivered at the pace, precision, and volume required to transform the building marketplace?

That was the thesis of Danfoss’s “Building Delivery: The Nexus of Market Transformation” initiative — the 29th installment of the manufacturer’s EnVisioneering Symposium series — held May 25 in Washington, District of Columbia.

The event brought more than 40 industry leaders together for a roundtable discussion focused on exploring practices and strategies in the building delivery equation. Presenters included Richard N. Swett, cofounder and CEO, Climate Prosperity Enterprise Solutions; Tomas O’Leary, cofounder and managing director, Passive House Academy; Brandon Nicholson, founding principal, Nicholson Kovalchick Architects; and more.

“Just like we’ve seen a shift from components to systems, another shift is occurring — one that focuses on building energy performance more critically,” said Lisa Tryson, director, corporate communications and public relations, Danfoss. “Many factors are entering into this equation, like economic growth, air quality, the life cycle of buildings, and connectivity. Through this event, we’ll explore the building delivery chain through the lens of architects and engineers, those who are responsible for their performance, and those who really operate at the intersection of building and the market forces driving it.”


Edward Mazria, CEO of Architecture 2030, explained that the carbon emission cuts necessary to achieve a widely envisioned 2°C cap on the rise in global temperature may seem far beyond anything that can be accomplished.

To accomplish such a lofty goal, Mazria said urban environments, which account for 75 percent of all human-produced global greenhouse gas emissions, need to be renovated and regulated.

“Over the next 15 years, world urban population is expected to increase by 1.1 billion or the equivalent of the entire population in the Western Hemisphere,” he said. “Over the next 15 years, the U.S. urban population is expected to increase by 40 million, absorbing the entire population growth estimate.”

Mazria contended that the goal is within reach precisely because urban buildings play such a large role. First, cities are responding to the challenge as expressed in the 2016 Paris agreement. A total of 533 cities worldwide are now disclosing greenhouse gas emissions, which is up 70 percent since the Paris agreement was completed. And second, cities are getting in the business of setting forceful emission reduction targets.

Architecture 2030 has proposed an ambitious plan: To phase out all CO2 emissions in the building sector by 2050. This would be accomplished through a new design of high-performance buildings and major renovations, deep efficiency renovations, and an increase in the use of renewable energy.

“That 2050 date is important. Once you go beyond that date, climate change is essentially irreversible in all the other scenarios, it’s that simple,” Mazria said.


The commercial buildings of today consume about one-half of the operating energy than the entire stock did in 2003. Mazria largely credits evolving codes and standards and demonstrated the impact of such regulations using the Commercial Zero Energy Performance Indicator (ZEPI) scale, which rates efficiency performance on a 0-100 scale with 0 representing zero net energy performance and 100 earmarking the performance of a typical modern building in 2003.

“When CBECS [Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey] 2012 came out, it moved the building stock from a 100 to an 84,” he said. “ASHRAE 90.1 2004 registered at a 73. Further improvements to 90.1 in 2010 moved building performance down to 54, and as the standard continues to evolve, the numbers will go lower and lower.”

Additional state energy codes, including California’s Title 24, have pushed energy ratings into the upper 40s, and city codes, such as those recently implemented in Palo Alto, California, have performance dipping into the low 40s on the ZEPI.

“Cities are starting to do this on their own, which is encouraging,” Mazria said. “We’re making great progress, but we need to continue to push the codes.”

Through a partnership with the New Buildings Institute (NBI), Mazria said Architecture 2030 is leading by example.

“The IECC [International Energy Conservation Code] and ASHRAE 90.1 2016 codes leave us at roughly 50-52,” he said. “We undertook a project with NBI that triggers a 20 percent improvement. NBI is also aiming to present a plan that’s 20 percent better than our project that essentially maxes out efficiency. The rest — to get to zero net carbon — would have to utilize on-site and off-site renewable energy sources.”


Energy consumption has largely leveled out throughout the U.S. and worldwide.

So, the next step, according to Mazria, is deep building renovations using building intervention points. Such critical junctures include major renovations driven by the capital improvement cycle, resiliency upgrades, zoning or use changes, and building transactions.

Mazria stressed that energy-efficiency upgrades most often occur during a building transaction.

He noted that smaller buildings — those 20,000 square feet or smaller — in New York City make up about 99 percent of the entire building stock and have high annual transaction rates.

“We did a study with SKANSKA and discovered if you do the efficiency improvements at a time of a major capital improvement cycle, the energy-efficiency improvements cost about 75 percent less,” Mazria said. “This is really key. Any policy or mandate should focus on this.”

Mazria said Architecture 2030 is calling for benchmarking ordinances and voluntary code improvements in many of the cities it’s working in.

“A number of cities are requiring either an asset score or home energy score at the point of sale, which provides a rating and a list of improvements that could be made,” he said. “This is not a hard sell in most cities. During transactions, because there are so many buildings changing hands, many of them get renovated to code. That’s when we start to make real inroads. Providing financial incentives for efficiency improvements during renovation could push us even further ahead. And, we need to review this sector every five years to see how it’s doing and make sure we’re tightening buildings up if and when they fall behind.”

For large buildings, Mazria said the industry needs a greater energy performance requirement.

“We’re calling for an increasing scale of requirements going out to 2050, where we can mandate a 60 percent reduction,” he said. “This would be better than ASHRAE 90.1 2016. This would be accomplished in small increments, and we’re actually looking at doing something like this in NYC.”

To gain results, Mazria said the industry needs to dispel the myth, move the market, and educate the masses.

“The myth is that it’s more expensive to design and build high-performance buildings. That’s a red herring,” he said. “To get better results, we have to set a margin for where this market is going so that everyone knows the direction we’re headed. We have to educate the building sector, owners, architects, and engineers and inform them of the tools that are available. Climate change is the design challenge of our time. However, it’s up to you because it’s not going to happen at the federal level.”


Following Mazria’s presentation, the esteemed panel of attendees followed up with a number of questions.

Mark Menzer, director of public affairs, Danfoss, asked, “These zero net districts — who owns them and how did they get their start?”

“We charter the districts, and the investment has to be privately led,” Mazria responded. “We look for about 20 percent public sector, 20 percent key players, and 60 percent from the private sector. There has to be a certain number of heavy-duty participants. We ask for a 50 percent energy, water, and emissions reduction commitment, and oftentimes, a lot has to be done to reach this goal. Once they meet the commitment criteria, they agree to meet, form a board, and sign a contract with Architecture 2030 to become a district. This all started in Seattle, and then Pittsburgh, and it has now become a phenomenon.”

Harvey Sachs, visiting fellow, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), questioned if the public is ready and willing to buy into efficiency.

“I’m in favor of these retrofits, but this is going to require massive public investment, whether that’s tax credits or direct subsidies,” he said. “I’m not sure how we get that, but it does require a large investment from the private sector.”

Mazria agreed, stating, “Absolutely, you have to have incentives and financing mechanisms. Otherwise, it’s going to be tough. If you stretch it out during the capital improvement cycle and give them options to increase efficiency contingent upon a bond that they’ll lose if they don’t achieve their goals, then you begin to give the real estate community the confidence that it can make these improvements during renovations. When done during the capital improvement cycle, they’re achievable and cost-effective.”

Drake Erbe, vice president of market development, Airxchange Inc., and chair of ASHRAE’s 90.1 committee, questioned if zero net carbon is an unlikely goal due to the fact that its achievement hinges largely on human behavior.

“Forty percent of energy use lies in plug loads. How do we get to zero net carbon if we have to rely on human behavior and the things we all have, such as computers, etc? Are you going to regulate the number of plug loads? To me, this is a huge barrier to zero net carbon.”

You can probably mandate and regulate plug loads via occupancy sensors, unplugging devices, etc., but it could be difficult enforcing such mandates, Mazria said.

“Buildings are going to use energy, and people are going to use energy, that’s really the key,” Mazria said. “Efficiency plays its role, but once it’s maxed out, you have to rely on other strategies and systems. That’s going to have to happen. There isn’t a choice in the sense. It will have to get done between now and 2050, and I believe most rational people are willing to do what it takes to reach that goal.”  

For more information on Danfoss’s EnVisioneering Symposium, visit

Publication date: 8/21/2017

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