The results from the fifth global Johnson Controls Inc. (NYSE.JCI) Energy Efficiency Indicator (EEI) are in, and the clear winner is improved lighting, which most of those surveyed viewed as the fastest and most financially effective path toward improving building energy efficiency.

Conducted online, the survey is a collaboration between Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based Johnson Controls – vested in building efficiency, battery-based power solutions and automotive components – the International Facility Management Association (IFMA, the world’s largest facility manager organization), and the Urban Land Institute (ULI), a global nonprofit urban planning organization.

Covering 30 building management groups in 13 countries on six continents, the survey was conducted in eight languages and drew responses from more than 4,000 business and real estate executives, property managers, engineers, and sustainability managers. Respondents were grouped by the size of their buildings, from large (500,000 square feet or more) to small, or less than 50,000 square feet. The largest representative group was commercial building owners and managers (58 percent), specifically facility managers (24 percent) operating large buildings (40 percent).

It’s no surprise that building energy efficiency is driven by the high, and rapidly increasing, cost of energy. What is surprising is that eight out of 10 building owner/operators who had access to energy-use data, through building sensors and controls, did not check their data feeds weekly to spot negative energy trends before they occurred – a sad truth borne out by a recent Greenpeace report on the information technology sector.

However, the twenty percent which did keep its collective finger on the energy-use pulse of buildings was three times more likely to implement additional “smart” building technologies like Heating, Ventilation and Air-Conditioning (HVAC) monitors that adjust temperatures automatically to preset levels, remote lighting sensors that shut lights off when a room is empty, and IT energy systems that power down computers which have not been used in more than an hour – incentives which caused the efficiency sector to lead the recent market rally.

The good news is that more building managers this year consider energy management vitally important than did in 2010. The sentiment is strongest in the U.S. and Canada (66 percent, up from 52 percent in 2010), though global awareness of the need for energy efficiency has also risen, from 60 percent in 2010 to 70 percent this year. In fact, four out of 10 surveyed said that they had won certification for an energy-efficient building in 2011, so the energy conservation message is clearly getting through.

Aside from energy costs – the biggest efficiency driver – other factors like government or utility incentives are stimulating this year’s surge in “smart” building implementation. The third driver remains managing one’s brand or public image, but fourth is increased energy security, which did not even factor in last year’s survey – an importance no doubt driven by the current turmoil in the Mideast.

The overall impetus among U.S. and Canadian respondents (at 42.3 percent, the largest segment of the survey) was the belief that national carbon taxing/trading or other carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas reduction measures will be instituted within the next two years.

For now, the U.S. – having lost its Chicago Climate Exchange cap-and-trade ETF and put Waxman-Markey energy bill off the table – is operating with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) of Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, and a California plan, the Western Climate Initiative, which has been extended to the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Quebec (and eventually Ontario and Manitoba).

What is holding back investment in energy efficiency? Lack of funding, in 38 percent of cases, at least in the U.S. and Canada – a situation most notable among small buildings/companies.

Ten percent of respondents also felt uncertain about how much upgrades would save, in terms of dollars, or how effective they would be, which is what made lighting improvements such a no-brainer. Less than 10 percent said they didn’t know about opportunities for energy improvement, for example rebates or grants.

What industry sector was most likely to invest in energy-savings? Healthcare. What area did most building managers, focusing on return on investment, choose to improve? The above-mentioned lighting, closely followed by HVAC upgrades, then by educating building occupants about the importance of saving energy.

Only 44 percent of large building managers surveyed instituted efficiency upgrades involving building envelopes (windows, doors, and insulation). And only 31 percent added renewable energy to their building’s onsite energy mix.


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