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By Ed Sullivan
November 2002 -
When might an energy-efficient building be not so energy efficient? The answer revolves around location, location, location.
Suppose a corporation decides to put up a new 200,000-square-foot headquarters to house 480 employees. It wants an attractive location and decides to move out, way out, into the exurbs. Being a good corporate citizen, it makes the building 30 percent more energy-efficient than the average building — a reasonable goal, says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. According to EPA numbers, the building cuts pollution as much as removing 200 cars from the road would.
So far, so good. But if cars are a measure of pollution, that exurban location demands a bit of scrutiny. Suppose the site adds 10 miles each way to the average employee’s commute. Again using EPA numbers, those extra miles essentially neutralize the pollution gains from energy efficiency. If the extra commute were longer still, this energy-efficient headquarters of a socially conscious corporation would have to be ranked below average from the perspective of global climate change.
There’s another way to look at it. A building that’s an energy hog might actually be a better overall performer if it happens to be located adjacent to mass transit that employees use.
None of this is to say that energy-efficient technology and design are unimportant. On the contrary, they’re crucial in all buildings, well-sited or not.
The real point it this: For those thinking about energy efficiency for a new building, “cars, cars, cars” may give “location, location, location” a run for its money.