Equitable, resilient building-performance retrofits get a boost from a new national coalition of state, local governments

by Brianna Crandall — January 28, 2022 — On January 21, President Biden announced that his Administration is teaming up with states, cities, labor, and industry to launch the National Building Performance Standards Coalition, a first-of-its-kind partnership between 33 state and local governments dedicated to delivering cleaner, healthier and more affordable buildings.

With nearly 20% of the nation’s building footprint in their jurisdictions, the partnership facilitates new commitments to design and implement building performance standards at the state and local level, create good-paying union jobs, lower energy bills for consumers, keep residents and workers safe from harmful pollution, and cut emissions from the building sector.

The announcement builds upon the Department of Energy’s efforts to upgrade 1 million homes, and makes progress toward President Biden’s goal to retrofit 4 million buildings and 2 million homes during his first term.

New federal actions, in tandem with close state and local coordination, will accelerate progress towards reducing buildings emissions at all levels of government, including states, territories, tribal nations, and local jurisdictions. Federal investments and technical assistance builds capacity, expertise, and infrastructure to advance climate action and environmental justice aligned with local or state-levels needs and opportunities.

When building performance standards are designed in partnership with frontline communities and key stakeholders, innovative and equitable solutions can address multiple needs in a community, the announcement pointed out. For businesses, high-performing buildings are not only good for the world, they are good for the bottom line — attracting higher occupancy rates and generating more revenue.

Today’s actions build on the $3.5 billion investment for home weatherization in President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and will make $1.8 billion available to state and local governments through the Department of Energy to expand building retrofits and policy implementation at the state and local level. And President Biden said he will continue to work with Congress to extend even more benefits to the American people under the Build Back Better Act.

The newly announced actions include:

  • A new National Buildings Performance Standards Coalition: This innovative partnership forms a coalition of state and local governments that represent over 22 percent of the American population. Supported by labor unions, philanthropy and non-governmental organizations, the Coalition has come together to scale programs and policies that reduce emissions across the buildings sector in local jurisdictions. This first-of-its-kind partnership will unlock energy efficiency and electrification across the buildings sector as an engine for job creation all while lowering energy bills for consumers.
  • Mobilizing Federal Assistance: The Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency also announced a series of actions to kickstart building performance standards and policy innovation across the country. Deploying a range of resources, the agencies will help jurisdictions with analysis support, policy design, and implementation tools.

The inaugural Building Performance Standards Coalition, which comprises 33 state and local governments and represents more than 15 billion square feet of applicable floor space, has come together to scale programs and policies that reduce emissions across America’s buildings sector.

The Coalition is founded on a commitment to work with stakeholders, especially frontline communities, to address health, energy affordability, and emissions reductions goals across the buildings sector. This participation includes developing policy roadmaps, convening place-based teams to co-create policy, identifying and acting on pre-requisites for building performance standards and complementary policies, and sharing results and experiences to forge a community of practice — with the ultimate goal of advancing legislation or regulation in each of the represented jurisdictions by Earth Day 2024.

IMT logoLotte Schlegel, executive director of the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT), released a statement addressing the potential impact of the announcement and its importance to the nation. In part, Schlegel stated:

In the big picture, this announcement sends a very clear market signal. More than 22% of the U.S. population live in the Coalition’s communities, and their homes, offices, schools, and other buildings represent nearly 20% of the nation’s building stock. As with communities across the country, the participating jurisdictions of the Coalition face enormous and diverse challenges from climate change, including increased heat waves, air pollution, drought, flooding, and extended power outages in the buildings where they live, work, and learn . . . not to mention the pollution from the energy and water used in the buildings.

Given that fewer than 2% of our workplaces and schools and less than 1% of U.S. homes get any sort of energy-related upgrade in a given year, the buildings where we spend our time are not prepared for the challenges ahead. Our communities need a building performance plan to manage and upgrade their buildings, to ensure that everyone is safe in a changing climate. And, that can create a lot of local economic opportunity in the process. We are proud to support a coalition of communities that want to do something about this!

Schlegel also talked about the disproportionate burden that lower-income communities end up bearing:

Centering frontline communities in the policymaking process is non-negotiable. Decades of policy and business practices have separated us by race and income into unequally resourced communities and buildings, creating a cycle where some have benefited greatly and others, mostly people of color, have been greatly harmed.

Those already bearing the brunt of these systems now also bear the increasing burden of higher energy bills, dirtier air, increased vulnerability to power outages, flooding, and other climate-related disasters, to which poorly planned and operated buildings contribute disproportionately. Real estate owners and investors in these communities need to have a building performance plan. Developers in these markets need to be building BEYOND code in order to deliver a long-term, high-quality product.

For more details on the new initiatives and a complete list of the Coalition members, see the White House Fact Sheet and the National BPS Coalition website.