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As UK-Influenced Standards Move Stateside, Building Automation Is The Key To Reducing Emissions

By: Mark Blyghton, Manager, Regional Sales, Distech Controls

Kendall O’Neill, Director, Channel Sales, Atrius®, Acuity Brands

In 2019 the UK committed to the ambitious goal of achieving net-zero by 2050. Recognizing that buildings are responsible for nearly 40% of global carbon emissions, the UK government enacted regulations on the energy use, efficiency and carbon emissions of buildings. In 2022, the U.S. has also pledged to be net-zero by 2050 but the government has yet to take any real steps to regulate the energy use, efficiency and emissions created by the nation’s buildings. 

If building owners and facilities managers look at the UK as a model of what’s to come if the U.S. intends to reach its net-zero commitment, they would start preparing for their spaces to have the kind of intelligence needed to track and reduce carbon emissions. To date, the U.S. sustainability policy has been all-carrot, but to see the kinds of reductions needed to reach net-zero, the UK approach that applies carrot-and-stick may need to be adopted. With stronger regulations the rewards are significant in terms of cost reduction, climate change mitigation and improved community health, but there will be an adjustment period as new processes are implemented. 

One such measure, the Energy Performance Certificates (EPC) ratings system was enacted in the UK in 2007. With the EPC system, all commercial buildings in the UK receive a benchmark from A to G for their energy efficiency (with A as the most efficient grade). The current minimum energy efficiency standards (MEES) make it unlawful for a landlord to grant a new tenancy or to extend/renew an existing tenancy for property having an EPC rating of F or G. The UK government has set an ambitious target of a minimum EPC rating of B for all commercial properties by 2030. 

There are about 185M square feet of retail spaces in the UK and some estimates place over 70% of London’s office spaces under an EPC B rating, with 10% currently at an F or G rating, making them unrentable. These spaces will need to make major improvements to their energy efficiency if they are to generate any profit for their owners. 

The UK government also seeks to introduce a performance-based energy assessment to sit alongside the EPC, similar to NABERS (the National Australian Built Environment Rating Scheme). This would require an annual submission of energy use data for buildings to maintain use. 

The U.S., however, is at a different stage in its sustainability journey. Because the U.S. doesn’t have a nationally recognized building or energy code, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy provides a model that cities and states can choose to follow as they see fit. 

The only comparable tracking certification equivalent to the UK’s EPC is the Energy STAR Certification for buildings. This scale ranks performance at a scale of 1 -100, requiring buildings to earn a score of 75 or higher. This ranking is based on the measurement of energy use in a building, but unlike other self-reporting, Energy Star leverages a verified third-party to make the assessment. Unlike EPC, there aren’t any penalties for buildings that are not Energy Star certified. 

That doesn’t mean the U.S. is not taking any steps to require a level of sustainability from buildings. Individual states and cities are taking on this role and trying to make their buildings reduce emissions. For example, New York City will enact Local Law 97 next year. This will be one of the most ambitious emission reduction initiatives in the nation, requiring most buildings over 25K square feet to meet new energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emission standards. The goal is to reduce carbon outputs in the city 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050. 

Similarly, Boston’s Building Emissions Reduction and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO) sets requirements for large buildings to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to net zero gradually by 2050. BERDO requires large buildings in Boston to report their annual energy and water use to the city, and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions over time. 

The key to both the New York and Boston initiatives will be accurate measuring, benchmarking and tracking of building data. Building automation is one of the easiest ways to capture this information and start reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Building automation systems have been shown to boost heating and cooling efficiency more than 20% and integrating state-of-the-art sensors and controls into most commercial buildings can reduce energy consumption by an estimated 29%. Even basic controls that allow facilities managers to turn off lights, close blinds and reduce HVAC needs to buildings when they aren’t in-use can amount to significant savings over spaces that are left running as if they were at full occupancy 24/7.

It is likely only a matter of time before U.S. building owners see nationwide requirements for building emissions. Building automation will play a critical role as operators prepare for the changes on the horizon and ensure their buildings remain rentable and fine-free. Ultimately these certifications, ratings and analysis only move both countries closer to their net-zero goals and the world towards a more sustainable future. 



Mark Blyghton, Manager, Regional Sales, Distech Controls

Mark is an Account Management & Business Development professional with B2B sales experience and an electro-mechanical engineering background. Currently employed as Regional Sales Manager for Distech Controls, developing the Distech Controls brand in London and the South East UK. He focuses on System Integrators, but is growing the Distech presence with engineering consultants, property developers and end users.

Kendall O’Neill, Director, Channel Sales, Atrius®, Acuity Brands

Kendall joined Acuity in March 2021 as Director of Strategic Partnerships for Atrius.  In her role, she supports our partner channel ensuring growth and adoption of our Building Insights platform. Kendall has been in the building technologies industry for more than 13 years.  Prior to Acuity, she was a National Business Development Manager for Digital Services at Siemens, where she worked with sales and operations teams to develop their strategy and deliver remote and cloud-based services to high profile and complex customers including the k-12, higher education, healthcare, data center, and commercial markets. Through her various roles and experiences in sales and operations, she has found a passion for leading organizations in adopting digital technologies and services.  Kendall has a comprehensive view of the industry: leverage data from building systems and apply digital solutions that drive business initiatives. 

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