A leader in its industry is celebrating a first. Southern Energy Management, a North Carolina-based solar power and energy efficiency company, has certified its first buildings through the EPA's Energy Star Buildings & Plants program. Both of the buildings in Morrisville, NC, are part of the U.S. headquarters for Lenovo, one of the world's largest computer technology companies.
"Energy efficiency is a fundamental building block to achieve lower operating costs, greater comfort for occupants and a smaller corporate footprint," SEM co-founder Bob Kingery said. "The Energy Star label for commercial buildings is a great tool for achieving all of these things, and it comes with the added benefit of a nationally recognized certification that has a positive association with customers and the general public."
Despite the obvious benefits, the Energy Star label for commercial buildings is still lagging in NC compared to other states, although it is gaining traction. Lenovo's buildings join just 26 other buildings in the Triangle to earn the label in 2010; statewide, there were 213, while 5,547 buildings were certified nationwide.
Energy Star for commercial buildings involves a different process than the more commonly known Energy Star label for new homes, mainly because the commercial variation focuses on existing buildings. The certification process for the facilities in RTP involved several steps that took place over a three month period for each of the nearly-identical 183,000 square foot buildings.
To start the process, SEM worked with Lenovo and Jones Lang Lasalle, Lenovo’s facilities management company, to collect information about the buildings' energy usage. SEM compiled the data online using the EPA's Portfolio Manager and produced a Statement of Energy Performance. Once the statement had been generated, the buildings received a walk-through from one of SEM's Professional Engineers, Francis Conlin, in order to give third-party verification that the buildings met strict EPA guidelines. The inspection included a wide range of metrics that impact energy efficiency and comfort - everything from indoor air quality to lighting levels.
Once SEM verified that the buildings were as efficient as claimed and met or exceeded industry-acceptable standards, the results were sent to the EPA. To be certified, the buildings had to reach 75 or higher on a 1-100 scoring system.
SEM (southern-energy.com) has certified more than 7,000 Energy Star homes, and has worked with dozens of commercial and military clients to reduce their energy footprint over the years, primarily through solar installations and building performance consulting and testing services; but these commercial Energy Star projects represent a new area of service for sustainability-minded companies.
"Bringing this type of certification to the commercial sector gives businesses a way to improve their existing buildings and achieve recognition for lowering their impact -- without doing an entire renovation," Kingery said. "Offering this service to our clients complements the large-scale solar projects we already are known for, and builds on our unique position as a holistic sustainable energy partner for businesses."