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.