185 Million Reasons to Like High-Performance Buildings | Alliance to Save Energy
07/25/18 :

185 Million Reasons to Like High-Performance Buildings

Many of you might know the federal government is the largest energy consumer in the United States, but what you might not know is that the General Services Administration (GSA) is the single largest owner/operator of office space in the United States, controlling over 370 million square feet of rentable space. This is significant because buildings consume a lot of energy. In fact, the residential and commercial building sectors combined to represent 39 percent of the total energy consumed by the entire country in 2017. Recognizing this, GSA has worked to improve the energy efficiency of its building stock to reduce energy consumption, save taxpayer dollars, boost energy independence and decrease stress on critical energy infrastructure.

A recent GSA report – The Impact of High-Performance Buildings – presents the findings of a three-year performance review of 200 GSA-owned buildings, split between 100 high-performance buildings and 100 legacy buildings. Unsurprisingly, the results were clear: high-performance buildings offer a range of critical benefits over other buildings. Perhaps most importantly for taxpayers, GSA estimates that if its entire portfolio met the average efficiency levels of high-performance buildings, the government could save nearly $185 million per year in operating costs.


GSA segments its portfolio in high-performance and legacy buildings based on whether a specific building meets the Guiding Principles for Sustainable Federal Buildings. These principles have been used since 2006 to help federal agencies reduce the total cost of owning and operating facilities, while improving resource efficiency and providing safe, healthy and productive work environments. The principles are:

  1. Employ integrated design principles
  2. Optimize energy performance
  3. Protect and conserve water
  4. Enhance indoor environmental quality
  5. Reduce environmental impact of materials
  6. Assess and consider climate change risks

Of the buildings that GSA owns, 27 percent meet the criteria of a high-performance building, representing 40 percent of the gross square feet.


GSA examined 200 GSA-owned and managed buildings spread out across the eleven GSA regions as part of this study. It collected data from each building, over three years, related to five metrics: energy use, water use, building operating expenses, solid waste and tenant satisfaction. The data from the two sets was then compared against one another and against industry benchmarks related to the Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS).

Energy Impact

Specifically looking at the energy-related data, GSA-owned buildings perform much better than industry benchmarks, with the high-performance buildings serving as the best performers.

  • High-performance buildings’ energy use intensity was 23 percent lower than legacy stock buildings;
  • High-performance buildings’ energy use intensity was 43 percent lower than the CBECS benchmark; and
  • Legacy stock GSA buildings’ energy use intensity was 25 percent lower than the CBECS benchmark.

GSA estimates that if one average-sized legacy stock building was retrofitted to meet its high-performance building criteria, it could save 5.1 billion Btu annually, equal to the annual energy use of 138 average American homes. There is also a significant financial impact – GSA estimates that it could save $44 million per year on just energy costs if the 100 legacy buildings considered in this study were upgraded to high-performance buildings.

Why it matters

This isn’t some academic exercise. While the government has made significant progress in reducing its energy consumption over the last few decades, there is still a lot of room for improvement. While high-performance buildings will not solve all of the government’s energy consumption issues, they are a cost-effective step that should be a top priority. Taxpayer dollars are always in high demand and those savings generated by high-performance buildings could be reallocated to other priority areas across the federal government.