Buildings that make productive use of natural, human and financial resources are crucial to achieving sustainable development and creating triple-bottom-line benefits, according to Clay Nesler, Johnson Controls’ vice president of global energy and sustainability for building efficiency. 

Nesler was the keynote speaker at the fourth Georgetown University Energy Prize workshop, an initiative that challenges towns, cities and counties to rethink their energy use, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In his address, titled “Accelerating Building Efficiency,” Nesler cited a recent report from the World Resource Institute’s Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, which outlines eight actions leaders can take to improve energy efficiency in buildings, such as efficiency improvement targets and building efficiency codes. Johnson Controls has been working closely with local governments and organizations to implement these actions.

“Why care about buildings?” Nesler asked workshop attendees. “One is there’s a very large impact. Forty percent of our energy and a third of our greenhouse gas 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.”

Attendees also heard presentations from university faculty members, such as Faramarz Vakili, director of campus sustainability operations at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Vakili discussed the college’s We Conserve campaign, which he said has reduced energy consumption by more than 25 percent and eliminated 287,000 metric tons of carbon-dioxide emissions since 2006.

“The university has several agendas,” Vakili said. “One is actually to be efficient in our operations, whether the motive is environmental stewardship or 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 of tomorrow, CEOs of tomorrow, senators of tomorrow. So we have a responsibility to be the best we can be in the area of efficiency.”

Collectively, communities, colleges and universities competing for the Georgetown prize have saved more than $64 million with their energy-efficiency plans and have cut carbon-dioxide emissions by more than 330,000 metric tons — the equivalent of permanently taking one car off the street every five minutes, officials said.

“That’s what I see when I look at the numbers in Georgetown,” said Francis Slakey, executive director of the Georgetown University Energy Prize. “But 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.”