By Ryan Miller – Founder & Executive Director
When I moved to North Carolina in 2010 to make a role for myself in sustainability and “green” building, the tone, strategy, and leadership of the industry was a mess. Although savvy consumers were aware of “that LEED stuff”, the industry lacked an organizing body to counter attacks on initiatives like improving minimum energy code requirements and industry companies lacked a way to voice their concerns. In addition, the renewable energy industry’s expeditious growth garnered all attention on “clean” energy. There wasn’t much air left in the room for buildings and energy efficiency.
Although it was well-known then, as it is now, that reducing energy usage before generating from renewables is the right way, due to a lackluster industry infrastructure, it wasn’t happening.
Enter: opportunity. The time was right to organize a new strategy and voice for “green” building: building performance.
In December of 2013, I made two phone calls that set my wheels in motion to form what would become North Carolina Building Performance Association, a first of its type association to lead a transition to making measured building performance matter more than certifications or plaques alone. First, a small-time builder and respected educator hit the nail on the head when he said that a state-based industry organization couldn’t make it by serving only the interests of the residential market – the portfolio would need bigger buildings. Second, a leader of North Carolina’s clean energy industry rightfully noted that we didn’t need another charitable organization in the mix – but instead needed a 501(c)(6) not-for-profit trade association that would put industry profit and stakeholder benefits under one umbrella.
Five years later, North Carolina’s market leadership, innovation and transformation has taken a firm hold and coined a new industry focused on performance. And when a state like ours props up that umbrella – with one foot in construction and the other in clean energy – big things happen quickly, as if the opportunities were there all along:
- We have more than 50,000 workers and 1,500 companies in our industry. We’re the largest sector of the state’s clean energy economy by companies, revenue, and jobs, and a major employer of residential and commercial construction subcontractors (if you aren’t with me yet, think insulation).
- Last summer, we found a 16.8% potential for North Carolina to increase its usage of building energy efficiency. Doing so would double our jobs and increase our state GDP contribution from 2.9% to 4.4%.
- Our same study determined that the amount of carbon emission reductions we’d see through 10 years of building energy efficiency investment would take the equivalent of 1,826 wind turbines (North Carolina has 104 right now).
- More than 30% of new homes in North Carolina are rated for energy efficiency and more than 45 unique programs exist to rate, certify, or verify a home or building for various levels of energy efficiency, green building, and high performance construction.
- A year ago, our first-of-its-kind market report identified a 9.5% price premium for high performance homes sold in three of North Carolina’s metro markets between 2015 and 2016. In the Triangle market where I live, that number was 22%.
What’s happening in North Carolina’s building performance industry is remarkable and can be replicated in other states and regions. And we’re here to help others make it so. With the steadfast support of our member companies, NCBPA’s 2019 work plan includes innovative activities that will push our industry companies and professionals to greater profits and impacts:
- Indoctrinating “Energy Efficiency First” as North Carolina’s preferred strategy for addressing the state’s current and future energy needs. We coined this slogan to position energy conservation and reduction before clean and renewable energy generation. A few months ago, we saw the results of this work take shape in Governor Cooper’s Executive Order #80 that mandates a wealth of investment in carbon emission reductions, electric vehicle implementations, and, you bet, state building energy savings.
- Continuing industry efforts to improve North Carolina’s minimum energy code requirements and build a roadmap to high performance buildings that incorporates renewable energy, energy storage, and electric vehicle “ready” provisions by 2024. As one of my members recently stated: “plaques on buildings don’t matter… their performance does!”
- Modifying the state’s large commercial and industrial energy efficiency opt-out program that allows major energy users to exempt themselves from paying utility rates that fund the energy efficiency programs that all North Carolina ratepayers can benefit from, including these businesses.
- Modernizing the energy efficiency cost effectiveness protocols that determine what programs regulated utilities can offer their customers, while at the same time increasing the requirements of regulated and non-regulated utilities to utilize energy efficiency as a resource in their electricity and natural gas generation portfolios.
- Introducing incentives to low income housing developers that build to standards above the NC Housing Finance Agency’s current minimum standard of ENERGY STAR 2.0, a program that doesn’t technically exist anymore.
- Increasing the uptake of passive design and construction techniques into more than just one-off custom and high-end homes and buildings. Builders are beginning to learn that there is a wealth of energy and performance benefits offered by low-cost passive strategies.
- Planning for homes and buildings to be energized by electricity only. The more electricity-powered systems, appliances, and vehicles there are in place, the greater the generation can be from renewable resources like solar and the greater the reliability and security can be from battery storage.
But, our industry’s roadmap to success is not without a few bumps in the road. When most people hear about “green” building, they refer to LEED, a program with less than 0.3% market penetration in our residential market and a fraction of the commercial market. In the past 23 years, only two pieces of legislation related to building energy efficiency have become law, while our solar industry has grown to the second largest in the entire country. Consumers oftentimes don’t know they have an energy or performance issue and when they do, they don’t know who to call. Building performance is a science, as we like to say, and not everyone can or will get it.
And speaking of not everyone getting it, our state has just three green-certified, residential Appraisers that are knowledgeable and capable of accurately valuing energy efficient, green, and high performance homes. The odds that one will show up at your home to provide an accurate appraisal of the high performance features (including rooftop solar, by the way) that you’ve paid for are basically zero. And, perhaps worse off in my view, our industry – at the state level and nationally – can’t show a student, parent, or teacher what career possibilities our industry provides! That information does not exist, anywhere!
So, where does that leave us? Well, with a lot of potential. NCBPA’s mission is to support the profitability and success of industry companies and professionals that spend their days improving homes and buildings in our state. That work doesn’t just produce widgets of some sort – no, that work improves the environment, restores local communities, and improves resiliency and recovery in the face of natural disasters that are becoming all too common in our state.
To address these and other industry needs, I’m proud to lead NCBPA’s work on a four-part strategic plan that, we believe, will make our state, and others, reap the benefits of a built environment that performs, lasts, and returns a wide range of value to its constituents. My Board of Directors formed our strategic plan two years ago and it has yet to change – not one comma or word. That’s because this strategic work is strong, impactful, and still invaluable to our constituents. Our strategic plan focuses on four areas:
- Improving the measured performance and market value of homes and buildings.
- Improving the policy and regulatory environment for the industry we represent.
- Improving our industry’s talent pipeline and career opportunities for existing workers.
- Educating home and building owners and operators on the value of high performance construction.
That’s NCBPA’s current mission. But we aren’t alone in leading this industry work. NCBPA seeks to serve as the state chapter or “boots-on-the-ground” for other organizations – state, regional or national – serving different parts of our industry. If you’re like me, you’ve been a volunteer leader of an organization with a strong mission but limited resources and know that volunteers and small budgets can only do so much.
With three full-time staff and more than 30 types of businesses in our membership, NCBPA is positioned to bring success to our industry companies, professionals and their customers, no matter how they measure it.