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Is your building part of the pollution problem? Time to find out

Besides cleaning up the air, energy efficiency reduces operating costs and pays for itself over the life of a building.
Besides cleaning up the air, energy efficiency reduces operating costs and pays for itself over the life of a building.
Adobe stock photo

Northern Utah has already suffered through several gloomy and unhealthy inversion days this winter. Improving Wasatch Front air quality will require a range of solutions, including reducing pollution contributed by large commercial buildings.

Some 40 percent of air pollution in the Salt Lake Valley on a typical winter day comes from buildings. Commercial buildings alone emit six tons per day of the pollutant nitrogen oxide, which causes inflammation of the airways.

Salt Lake City leaders have launched Project Skyline to work with building owners across the city to proactively improve energy efficiency and reduce pollution. Mayor Jackie Biskupski is proposing an ordinance that would require owners of commercial buildings over 25,000 square feet to “benchmark” their energy usage and efficiency and report the scores annually.

Benchmarking is free using Energy Star Portfolio Manager, and no penalty would be imposed if a building is not energy-efficient. But, like vehicle fuel-economy ratings, the data would provide owners, tenants, lenders and buyers with information they need to voluntarily improve energy efficiency and make informed decisions about building investments.

Zions Bank owns a number of buildings in Salt Lake City and county. Our leadership wondered how energy-efficient our buildings are. These buildings are obviously very important to serve our customers and as places of employment, but we want them to be as energy-efficient as possible and not contribute to the air pollution problem.

Understanding that “you can’t manage what you don’t measure,” our Facilities Management Group conducted energy efficiency audits on our 23 buildings in Salt Lake County, using the Energy Star tools provided in the Project Skyline program.

The benchmarking results were very enlightening and helpful, and showed that while some of our buildings perform very well, we have improvements to make in other buildings.

The Energy Star benchmarking system rates buildings on a 1-100 scale, with highly efficient buildings receiving higher scores. Calculations are based on building use type, square footage, employee occupancy and natural gas and electricity utilization. Data are entered into the website, which calculates the Energy Star scores.

The Zions’ Energy Star scores for office buildings ranged from 62 to 100, with most larger buildings scoring in the 80-90 range. I’m pleased to report that our headquarters office building downtown, with 317,000 square feet, scored 100, the top score possible.

However, our smaller financial centers did not do as well, showing that we need to make improvements. Like many businesses, we have a lot of work to do to become more energy-efficient and reduce pollution. But now we know where to begin and what to do — and we’re motivated.

Besides cleaning up the air, energy efficiency reduces operating costs and pays for itself over the life of a building.

Rocky Mountain Power has committed to help building owners with the benchmarking process and will also provide advice and incentives on building tune-ups.

Salt Lake City notes that through benchmarking alone, with expected voluntary follow-up actions, city businesses would save $9 million in annual energy costs, reduce carbon dioxide by 97,000 tons per year, and reduce nitrogen oxide by 30 tons per year. If building owners also conducted energy tune-ups every five years, they would save an additional $18 million in annual energy costs and reduce carbon dioxide by 180,000 tons and nitrogen oxide by 69 tons.

This is a program worth supporting. Air pollution especially hurts children, the elderly and those with existing diseases. Some 230,000 Utahns have asthma, and nearly 500,000 suffer from cardiovascular disease.

Building pollution is just one part of the air quality puzzle, but the problem must be attacked from multiple directions, and this is an important step forward.

A. Scott Anderson is CEO and president of Zions Bank.