Navigant Research Blog

The White House Leading the Way to a Greener Future

Krystal Maxwell — August 5, 2016

HVAC RoofOver the past couple of weeks, Americans have tuned in to watch and listen to speeches at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions and hear each party’s endorsements of their presidential candidate nominees. In her speech at the DNC, First Lady Michelle Obama stated, “I wake up every morning in a house built by slaves,” a statement that has been the center of many conversations since then. The White House was, in fact, built by slaves, along with several other American structures that exist today. The purpose of this blog, however, is not to take a political stand on the first lady’s statement, but rather to examine the transformation of the White House through energy efficiency efforts.

Greening the White House

On a global scale, commercial and residential buildings account for 37%-45% of total energy consumption, and improving the efficiency of buildings to reduce overall energy use has been an increasingly important policy focus worldwide. Historically, buildings were not constructed with many of the energy saving technologies incorporated in new buildings today. Retrofits to improve a building’s efficiency focus on energy efficient lighting, HVAC, building controls, and water efficiency, among other building functions.

The Clinton Administration’s Greening the White House initiative, announced on Earth Day in April 1993, aimed to improve the energy and environmental performance of the White House and Old Executive Office Building by analyzing, designing, and implementing an energy saving program. The program consisted of an audit, feasibility study, early actions, demonstration spaces, long-term initiative, and technology transfer/outreach. Components implemented as part of the initiative include improving energy and water efficiency, utilizing renewable energy sources, reducing waste streams, improving indoor air quality, and improving overall building comfort and performance. Clinton’s administration replaced the White House’s incandescent bulbs with CFLs and changed out all windows in the Eisenhower Executive Office with double-paned glass windows. The improvements implemented saved $1.4 million in 6 years.

President George W. Bush continued Clinton’s work, and in 2003 installed the White House’s first solar electric system in the maintenance area of the main building. Additionally, Bush executed a recycling program for office paper and added additional solar systems that heated the water in the pool cabana.

The Current Administration’s Initiatives

Reducing America’s carbon footprint has been an important policy initiative of President Obama. Obama’s initiatives started in the White House and included the planting of a 1,000 SF garden and solar panels added to the roof of the White House in 2014, which generate 6.3 kW of energy. The Obama Administration has set a goal to reduce the federal government’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 40% from 2005 levels by 2025, an objective that is part of the country’s overall aim to reduce GHG emissions by 26%-28% from 2005 levels by 2025.

The U.S. Department of Energy launched the Better Buildings Initiative in 2011, partnering with organizations to increase investment in energy efficiency, reduce energy bills, and avoid carbon pollution. Initially 60 organizations with roughly 2 billion SF of building space accepted the Better Buildings Challenge to improve the efficiency of their building portfolios by 20% or more. Through this program, the government committed to $2 billion in third-party financing. More than 310 organizations representing 4.2 billion SF and 1,000 industrial facilities that have participated in the program, with public and private financing commitments of over $10 billion. The partners have shared their confirmed strategies, increasing overall success of energy savings in buildings.

The White House has historically served as a symbol freedom and democracy, but now also represents the efforts of the federal government in its goal to reduce the environmental impact of buildings.

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