Institute for Building Efficiency’s Jennifer Layke: Insights on Communicating the Enormous Potential of Energy Efficiency

She argues it’s time to shift the paradigm from “retrofits” to “upgrades,” “savings” and “improvement.”

We recently posted about New York Times’ senior energy reporter Matt Wald’s thoughts on whether or not energy efficiency (EE) was condemned to be an inherently uninteresting, “eat your peas” technology. Wald spoke as part of our Scaling Green Communicating Energy Lecture series.

We wanted to put that question to an EE professional. So we asked Jennifer Layke of the Johnson Controls-funded Institute for Building Efficiency (IBE). The Institute recently released its updated, worldwide survey of 3,500 global executives and building owners’ attitudes towards EE and renewable energy in buildings.

The report found that:

  • More than “sixty percent of global respondents said their organizations were investing in EE and over a third of them reported investing in renewable energy projects.”
  • Over half of respondents said they planned to increase their investments in EE and renewables next year, with just 9% saying they planned to pull back on such investments.

Clearly, EE is on the rise in the global business community.

Despite this, we’re constantly shocked at the abject waste of energy, and why cutting it isn’t the top energy policy priority. So we were intrigued with the survey’s results.

Jennifer Layke’s take?

To her, the survey shows just how fast the EE market is evolving. In her eyes, traditional views towards EE are shifting rapidly. In part, this is because EE strategies are incorporating information technology that gives building owners and operators a clear vision of what can be done in a much more visible way than before. Software-driven dashboards, for instance, allow building operators to diagnose and engage with building efficiency performance in ways they couldn’t in the past.

According to Layke, the commercial challenge of EE today isn’t so much in the industrial sector, where companies like Dow see it as a core, long-term facet of their business. Instead, the biggest challenge is in the commercial building space, with its shorter time horizons and leasing obstacles that hobble efforts to provide cost incentives renters to save energy. Overall, she’s excited about new opportunities for alternative financing of EE projects that will enhance their ability to compete against alternative investment options for building owners and reduce payback times as well.

But what about communicating EE in a more exciting way than conventional wisdom views it?

Jennifer Layke thinks the central challenge is shifting the paradigm from “retrofits” to a more accurate sense of “upgrades.” According to Layke, this gives the “sense of progress and forward momentum of energy efficiency” and also “helps frame what the energy efficiency dialogue is all about – improvement.”

Though we’re appalled by how much energy we waste in this country, Jennifer Layke cautions that EE communications should be less about waste and more about savings and value. It’s part of the reason why LEED standards and other green building ratings systems have taken off in recent years, with the market penetration of green buildings increasing (e.g., the Empire State Building had a wildly successful and highly publicized EE makeover), and with consumers becoming much more savvy about the benefits of EE.

Maybe there is a way to make EE exciting. If so, we suspect IBE and Johnson Controls might find a way to make it resonate – along with 3,500 of their closest friends.

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