When will the US Senate conduct hearings on “energy loss” programs?

Yesterday a Senate Committee grilled “Dr. Oz” about the promotion of weight-loss products on his show.  At issue are the unsupported claims made for these products and the false hopes of millions of viewers who are looking for quick ways to lose weight.  I would like to know when the Senate will grill proponents of green buildings in the same way.

Don’t get me wrong — I know that Americans need to lose weight, and there are very clear ways to do that with slow, determined change in behavior.  The same is true for improving building energy efficiency.  There are clear ways to cost-effectively improve buildings so that they use 10-20% less energy without any loss of performance.

But Americans want quick solutions — ways to lose 30 pounds in one month without pain or suffering.  And there is an entire industry out there selling products which promise to achieve these very results.  But there is no scientific evidence to support such claims, and mostly people spend their money on these products and never reap their promised benefits.  The few who do achieve the desired weight loss do it because of their regular exercise and reduction in caloric intake — perhaps coincident with the use of some new product, but having no other connection to it.

America’s energy-guzzling buildings have much in common with its overweight population.  And a government-sponsored industry – not unlike the one promoted by Dr. Oz – has emerged promoting green buildings, zero energy buildings, and high-performance buildings — all promising great energy savings for those who adopt their strategies. The US Green Building Council claims that its LEED-certified buildings are achieving 47% energy savings.  The EPA claims that its ENERGY STAR benchmarking program yields significant energy savings.  The New Buildings Institute promotes Zero Energy Buildings as the ultimate “weight loss program.”  The US Federal government pours millions of dollars into GSA, DOE and EPA programs that prumulgate these ideas.  My own state of Ohio has spent millions on LEED-certified schools without a single scientific study to demonstrate that these buildings actually save energy.  The list of organizations and claims goes on and on.

Yet the above claims are, at best, outrageous exagerations.  The USGBC claim is made for a “cherry picked” subset of its buildings and is based on ENERGY STAR scores which have no scientific credibility [see earlier post].  The EPA claims are similarly based on ENERGY STAR scores and do not stand up to close inspection.  And close inspection of data gathered by NBI shows that, at most, about 10 US commercial buildings in the country have demonstrated net-zero performance.  Amercia is spending millions on these green and high performance buildings efforts with little data to demonstrate efficacy.

Don’t get me wrong — I am a stong advocate of cost-effective energy efficiency and energy conservation.  I am also a strong advocate of exercise and sensible nutrition.



1 thought on “When will the US Senate conduct hearings on “energy loss” programs?

  1. John,

    The questions and the analogy you suggest here is especially apt. Green Buildings, Net-Zero Buildings (whatever that really means), HP buildings, are very much like the world of vitamins and supplements. Even if you point out that there is no scientific evidence for the efficacy of these various products, it hardly matters. Dr. Oz, like the various gurus at USGBC or HBN, or various architectural research activist and other orgs are simply following in the footsteps of alternative medicine claims. Sadly, EPA, DOE, GSA, and other agencies, that should be protecting the public are actually encouraging this stuff with lots of money and non-monetary support. The history of alternative medicine hawkers is a long one. Sadly, green building proponents have taken this tack as a result of their technical ignorance and activist predispositions. There is still a very powerful demand out there for supplying stuff that makes people feel morally superior and folks all too happy to supply to this market. Think of the gluten-free and organic pet food market as only one example of a massive market in questionable products produced for a consumer desperate to feel morally superior. Rather than serious, difficult (both in content and in method), skeptical, and robust scientific methods, magical thinking provides the shortcut. Buying into a lot of this green building stuff has the same business and policy structure as encouraging gluten-free or organic pet food or the thinking behind anti-vaccination adherents.

    I suppose one should not be too surprised that an organization like the USGBC has found a way to mine the need to feel holier-than-thou in the market for built assets. Good for them, but this may not be good for buildings, people, or long-term policies to effectuate meaningful change. After all, one can get “certified” vitamins and supplements as well, though that doesn’t mean that any real benefit has been conferred on the health of the consumers as a result and can actually lead to negative revenge effects.

    Thanks for being one of the few voices of reason in the area who insists on real data and real scientific rigor. I would hope that your actions here would encourage so many others who have fled and left this area to the anointed to return.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s