In the new world order of 
energy, change is one of the guiding principles. Change can be hard, but when it comes to achieving greater building efficiency, the federal government has accepted the challenge.

Building on the success of a two-year-old program, the Obama administration has raised the bar on its Better Buildings Challenge. The expansion comes on several different fronts.

The president launched the challenge in 2011 to help commercial and industrial buildings become at least 20 percent more energy-efficient by the year 2020. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), more than 120 organizations, representing more than 2 billion square feet of building space, have accepted that challenge and are on track to cut their buildings’ energy use by an average of 2.5 percent annually, equal to about $58 million in energy savings each year.

On Dec. 3, 2013, the DOE and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced an expansion of the program into the multifamily sector. Teaming up with market rate and affordable housing owners and public housing agencies, they will take steps to reduce energy use by 20 percent in 10 years. At the time of the announcement, 50 multifamily partners, representing some 200,000 units and 190 million square feet, had already committed to the challenge.

The stakes are high. The DOE reports that about a quarter of U.S. households live in multifamily housing, and the improvements could save up to $7 billion in energy costs per year through lighting improvements, heating and cooling system upgrades, rooftop solar system installations, and more retrofits and green construction. 

In addition to the reach into the multifamily sector, the Obama administration is expanding the challenge in other important ways. The DOE launched three new Better Building Accelerators to help state and local governments create greater efficiencies in energy. The Better Buildings Energy Data Accelerator will help more than 30 cities and utilities develop streamlined approaches to help building owners access whole-building energy use data. Through the Better Buildings Performance Contracting Accelerator, more than 16 states, cities and school districts will enter into $1.2 billion worth of performance-based contracts to increase efficiency at minimum cost. Through the Better 
Buildings Industrial Superior Energy Performance (SEP) Accelerator, nine manufacturers and utilities will use an SEP certification program to verify energy-
efficiency improvements and practices.

Finally, the Obama administration has challenged federal agencies to also expand their use of performance-based contracts through 2016. The original challenge called for $2 billion worth of performance-based contracts, and the DOE reports agencies have exceeded that goal by developing a list of $2.3 billion worth of projects.