Cold logic to tackle hot buildings

The International Standardization Organisation (ISO) announced energy efficiency standards for buildings.

It has been a while since ISO expressed its commitment to contribute to the global fight against climate change. ISO 14001, for instance, was established as an Environmental Management System (EMS) certification in enterprises and various businesses.  At the World Energy Congress organized in Rome in November 2007, there was a session on the role of International Standards in the supporting and development of energy efficiency measures and renewable energy sources. The participants concluded that “a strategic partnership between the [World Energy Council (WEC), the International Energy Agency (IEA), ISO and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC)] had been initiated and would be pursued in order to identify priorities for industry and governments and boost the production of globally relevant International Standards.” (Source).



About only a year later, ISO took this initiative rather seriously and now aims one of the single most GHG-intensive end-usages: energy consumption of buildings (read press release). “ISO 23045:2008, Building environment design – Guidelines to assess energy efficiency of new buildings, provides energy-related requirements for the design process, or to achieve targeted values of energy efficiency for new buildings” is the complete name of the standard.  

This new standard is powerful because of its cold logic: energy efficiency (in buildings) is a way of saving money, saving the planet and fighting energy dependency. Creating these standards enable a durable “green” market to be created.

Cleaner, cooler, fitter.

The way in which standards create new markets for environmental goods and services is rather straightforward. In a sentence, when you have an ISO certification, you have something that others do not demonstrably have, hence the added value on your investment. Without standards, one has to rely on ad hoc appraisals of a building’s global energy efficiency, for instance, whereas standards reduce transaction costs, insure a certain degree of quality and oust-out wannabe greens from the building market.

As with any other standard, such as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, the devil is in the details. It is not clear how exactly the energy efficiency of the building is appraised. Does it rely on best practice or on similar buildings? What are the thresholds? Is there a need for third-party monitoring, validation and measuring? Regarding GHGs, is there a qualitative analysis of the energy sources?

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  1. Dan

    A big issue with energy efficiency in buildings is that often the tenant pays the energy bills but the landlord is the one who should invest in energy efficiency (even if the tenant is able to, it’s not really in their interest unless they’re there for a really long time). The market is not really clever enough to put a premium on energy efficiency that reflects the savings in bills. Perhaps this ISO will help that. God ISOs are boring.

  2. Simon Billett

    In terms of the LEED Certification, the issue is also the level of the (as you rightly say, ambiguous) benchmark. As well as being vague, they are generally far below the efficiency savings required to meet the kind of GHG targets in discussion. For example, Platinum, the highest LEED grade, generally cuts building emissions by only around 10-20%.

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