City & County of Denver A Model for Sustainable Action
Building smart in the City and County of Denver includes several programs designed to help the municipality and broad community achieve cost reductions and high performance, and to conserve use of natural resources. Placing a substantial emphasis on the built environment provides this capital city the highest return-on-investment in addressing climate change and in creating an environmentally and economically sustainable future.
Like thousands of cities across the globe, Denver is committed to reducing the threat of climate change and to improving the future sustainability of its community. Denver is signatory to both the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement and the Global Cities Covenant on Climate – “The Mexico City Pact.” To reach its goal of a 25 percent community-wide reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, Denver embarked on a Climate Action Plan in November 2007. Part of the preparation for enacting this plan was to determine the main contributors of greenhouse gases within its borders. A 2006 greenhouse gas inventory conducted for Denver indicated that 52 percent of greenhouse gas emissions originated in the building sector.
Creating and implementing programs designed to improve efficiencies in Denver’s building sector has become a key component of the work underway by Denver’s Office of Sustainability, Greenprint Denver, and its municipal and community partners.
Denver has used federal stimulus funding to improve the efficiency of municipal buildings – to the tune of $1 million saved annually on municipal utility bills. “Stimulus funds allowed us to make strategic investments in our facilities to further the City’s commitments to minimize energy consumption, to contain energy expenditures and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through operational and capital improvements,” said Adrienne Benavidez, manager of general services for the City and County of Denver.
This work consists of energy audits and retro-commissioning on 60 City facilities, including all recreation centers and libraries, as well as recommended improvements. “We wanted to focus our efforts first on buildings receiving the most foot traffic by our community because they are open the most hours each week. Additionally, this allows us to educate the public about programs and resources available so they can undertake similar projects in their homes and businesses,” said Christian Williss, sustainability program administrator for general services. “This effort needs the whole community’s participation if we are going to make even a small dent in bettering our community for the future.” Improvements in these facilities, including lighting and mechanical retrofits, are moving forward and should be completed by Fall 2012.
Another large component of this effort includes ensuring construction and renovation work on municipal buildings is pursued in a sustainable manner. A 2007 Executive Order, updated in 2011, requires all buildings renovated or maintained with city funds to be designed, constructed and operated according to principals outlined in the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and
Environmental Design (LEED) green building certification program. LEED measures how well a building performs across metrics of energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emission reduction, improved indoor air quality and natural resource stewardship. To date, 11 municipal buildings have received LEED certification, and seven have received LEED Gold, the second-highest achievement level possible. Five more buildings in phases of design or construction are also destined for LEED certification. Investing in “green,” or high-performance buildings, allows Denver to save on long-term operating costs and to use natural resources more wisely. These investments prove to be good for the environment and good for the municipality’s bottom line while generating fiscal savings and economic opportunities.
Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock recently took another giant step forward by accepting the Obama Administration’s Better Buildings Challenge to communities. Through its partnership with the Better Buildings Challenge, Hancock has committed to reducing energy use 20 percent by 2020 across its building portfolio, which totals more than six million square feet. Denver will undertake a number of energy savings projects within its own buildings, educate external partners through outreach programs and showcase significant projects throughout the community. The City of Denver expects these retrofits to help achieve additional savings annually on utility payments.
Knowing the entire community has a role to play in building a world-class city where everyone matters, Denver provides programs designed to help residents and businesses save money and conserve resources. “Even if the City of Denver took every action possible to retrofit its buildings and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, 97 percent of the problem is still in the hands of the community and in need of a solution. The city government’s efforts can only get us so far, and then we must ask the people of Denver to join us,” said Hancock.
Denver’s Community-Based Programs
The Denver Energy Challenge
Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and sponsored by Denver’s Department of Environmental Health, the Denver Energy Challenge connects Denver’s small businesses and residents to energy education, rebates and assistance to encourage and to recognize energy saving actions. The goal is to help businesses and residents save money, increase energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. By July 2013, the Denver Energy Challenge plans to reach 1,200 business and 6,000 residential participants, helping to achieve a reduction in energy use of 15 percent or more. To date more than 600 businesses are participating with approximately $400,000 in rebates issued to more than 200 businesses with 6.5+ million kilowatt hours saved annually. More than 2,700 residents are participating with approximately 400 homes saving 15 percent or more – a total of 3.9+ million kilowatt hours saved annually.
Residents and small business owners are eligible to receive energy advising support, and small businesses can get free low-cost energy efficient lighting products. An Energy Advisor provides a resident or small business a free initial energy consultation to estimate potential energy and cost savings, as well as energy audit analysis and action planning to implement the most strategic efficiency improvements.
“We save businesses time and money by providing start-to-finish assistance with energy efficient improvements, including cash rebates once projects are completed, ” said Sharon Procopio, commercial program administrator for the Denver Energy Challenge.
“There are many available resources and rebates for residents; however, many do not know where to start. This program is unique because we are able to provide free energy advising to help residents make the best decisions for energy improvements in their home,” said Liz Babcock, residential program administrator.
Certifiably Green Denver
For businesses wanting to take their environmentally sustainable practices to the next level, they can also participate in the Certifiably Green Denver program, also sponsored by Denver’s Department of Environmental Health. The program is currently available to offices, retail establishments, restaurants and auto repair shops to help businesses achieve efficiency benchmarks in business management, energy, water conservation, resource management and transportation.
Open to all Denver metro area hotels and office buildings with 5,000 square feet or more, Watts-to-Water is a broad partnership of utility, business and municipal partners targeting energy and water consumption for large commercial buildings.
“The large commercial building sector is of particular interest to us because these buildings account for two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions generated by Denver’s built environment,” said Cindy Bosco, a program manager with Greenprint Denver.
Watts-to-Water partners, including Xcel Energy, Denver Water, the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 8 Office, offer program participants free educational sessions, technical support and rebate programs designed to teach office and hotel property owners how they can be more sustainable, both environmentally and economically. An annual awards program recognizes those participants who excel in energy and water consumption improvements. In the program’s inaugural year, 137 buildings representing 28 million square feet of office and hotel space took the plunge towards energy and water efficiency.
Nonprofit Energy Efficiency Progra
Recognizing the challenge rising energy costs have on nonprofit facilities providing services to low-income individuals and families, the Nonprofit Energy Efficiency Program was born. Through its franchise agreement with the City of Denver, Xcel Energy funds energy efficiency services to low-income individuals and nonprofit facilities in the Denver. Denver’s community partner, Energy Outreach Colorado, has conducted energy audits and efficiency upgrades to more than 111 nonprofit facilities and 68 organizations since 2007.
“Targeting dollars toward energy efficiency upgrades in nonprofit organizations reduces energy costs and redirects dollars toward direct service to the community,” said Dace West, director of the City of Denver’s Office of Strategic Partnerships.
Denver Public Schools is also taking part in the city-wide energy challenge with a new kind of competition currently underway. Students at 10 high-schools have formed teams to identify school-wide energy and greenhouse gas emission reduction opportunities. With help from Environmental Protection Agency grant funds and the Denver Energy Challenge program, each participating team receives $500 in seed money to begin taking sustainable actions in energy, water and waste. The more actions a team takes the more money it is eligible to earn – up to $3,500. To sweeten the pot even further, the school with the most points can win an additional $1,000 and the chance to perform an energy evaluation at a local business. Their recommendations will be implemented with support from the commercial side of the Denver Energy Challenge program.
Community leaders have also stepped-up to serve as sustainability role models. The Alliance for Sustainable Colorado is undertaking a major energy-efficiency renovation of its century-old converted warehouse to show how existing buildings can be transformed into truly high-performing ones. The Alliance Center, located in Denver’s Lower Downtown Historic District, enjoys the distinction of being the first historic building in the country to have earned two LEED certifications, Gold for Existing Buildings and Silver for Commercial Interiors.
But the Alliance believes further gains are possible and that doing so is critical to achieving a sustainable future. The Alliance Center will be a “living laboratory” to explore both technical and occupant-involvement options for improving building efficiency and desirability, including its participation in a leading-edge example of aggregating disparate buildings into a single association in lower downtown Denver called, “Living City Block.” Alliance President John Powers said, “Major resource-efficiency gains can be achieved while also making buildings healthier, more desirable as properties and more supportive as workplaces – all of which can improve lease performance.”
The Alliance is aiming for LEED Platinum with its renovation. But, more importantly, it is carefully documenting each step of the renovation to create a replicable framework for use in transforming other existing buildings to high performance.
Taken together, these efforts add up to building a world-class city where everyone matters.