Building a Better Future: Moving Toward Zero Pollution with Highly Efficient Homes and Businesses

A comprehensive plan to make our nation’s buildings more efficient by 2030 could save enough energy to power all of our nation’s cars, homes and businesses for a year and a half while saving Americans more than $500 billion. By renovating old buildings and ensuring that new ones use 50 percent less energy within ten years and generate as much energy as they use by 2030, we can cut U.S. global warming emissions by at least 34 percent by 2050.



Environment America

Executive Summary

America is the largest consumer of energy in the world. The majority of this energy is derived from dirty, polluting sources such as coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power. Our consumption of these fuels exacerbates global warming, keeps us dependent upon oil and other fossil fuels, and undermines our economy. 

40 percent of America’s energy—ten percent of all the energy used in the world—goes towards powering our buildings. Much of this energy is simply wasted through poor insulation, leaky windows, inefficient lighting, heating or cooling systems, and poor construction techniques. 

If we stay on our current unsustainable path, the energy we use in buildings will:

  • Grow by 6.61 quadrillion British Thermal Units (BTUs) between 2010 and 2030—a 16 percent increase, or as much energy as is used to power 86 million homes for 2 years;
  • Account for 43 percent of total U.S. energy consumption by 2030, making us even more dependent on imported and polluting fossil fuels; and
  • Have increased emissions of carbon dioxide by 323.95 million metric tons, roughly equivalent to the annual carbon dioxide emissions of 80 coal-fired power plants.

For us to make meaningful progress in reducing our energy consumption and our nation’s global warming emissions, we must use far less energy in our buildings. 

With approximately 75 percent of our buildings scheduled to be new or renovated by the year 2040, we have a huge opportunity to save energy. By taking bold action to improve the energy efficiency of our nation’s buildings, we can put America on track to meet our energy challenges and reduce our global warming emissions. President Obama has announced an ambitious but achievable goal of making all new buildings zero-net-energy, or “zero energy”, by 2030. The economic recovery bill recently passed by Congress has provided some much needed momentum, by providing more than $25 billion for weatherization, and energy efficiency upgrades for commercial and government buildings. 

Through ongoing investments in making our existing buildings more efficient and by committing to higher performing new buildings—which cut energy use in half within ten years and which generate as much energy as they use by 2030—we can make major progress toward achieving energy independence, reducing global warming emissions and improving our economy.

By adopting and implementing the following policies we can promote the construction of high performance, energy-efficient buildings:

  • Improving and enforcing building energy codes. National model code standards should require 30 percent greater efficiency by 2010 and 50 percent greater efficiency by 2016, and state and local codes should match or exceed the model codes. This would ensure that the 2012 and 2018 code releases would meet these targets;
  • Adopting the President’s target of all new buildings being zero energy by 2030; and
  • Retrofitting all existing commercial and residential buildings before the year 2030.

By 2030, America will see the following benefits from adopting these policies:

  • Saving 144 quadrillion BTUs, or enough energy to power all of America’s homes, businesses, cars and power plants for a year and a half;
  • Preventing a total 11.2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted, equivalent to nearly the annual carbon dioxide emissions of the U.S. and China combined;
  • Paying back upfront costs in eleven years and netting more than $542 billion in energy savings by 2031; and
  • By 2050 we will have cut U.S. carbon emissions by 34 percent from projected levels—securing a major portion of the reductions necessary to meet the nation’s target of 80 percent cuts in global warming emissions below 2005 levels by 2050.