Summary

Buildings are responsible for at least 40 percent of our energy use and greenhouse gas emissions but also offer some of the fastest and least expensive solutions for reducing their environmental impact. By featuring high quality building envelopes and systematic air renewal, MINERGIE buildings consume at least 60 percent less energy than conventional buildings and ensure comfortable indoor environments. Only the final energy consumed is relevant for MINERGIE certification, and additional costs to meet the standard must not exceed 10 percent of construction costs.

On October 7, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) and Embassy of Switzerland held a lunch briefing about how energy efficient buildings have become the cornerstone of Switzerland’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on fossil fuels with strong support from the Swiss building industry, financial sector, and public agencies. More than 14,000 buildings in Switzerland and neighboring countries have voluntarily earned the Swiss MINERGIE® label, including single-family homes, shopping centers and historically important buildings. As Congress considers energy and climate legislation, this briefing examined Switzerland’s success in promoting energy efficiency policies and whether similar strategies can be applied to reduce U.S. building energy consumption.

  • Reps. Tammy Baldwin and Russ Carnahan declared that America needs to address the built environment for both economic and environmental benefits. Moving toward energy efficient buildings represents seizing the “low hanging fruit” of climate policy.
  • Switzerland has been a leader in energy efficiency since the 1970s, investing in renewable resources, high performance buildings and public transportation.
  • MINERGIE, a private, non-profit organization in Switzerland, developed the MINERGIE standard for new buildings and retrofits that focuses on insulation, an airtight building shell, comfort ventilation, and freedom of design choices. MINERGIE-certified buildings save energy, improve property value, and increase occupant comfort.
  • MINERGIE houses in Switzerland have enjoyed lower mortgage rates than comparable conventional homes because banks recognize the added value and potential for outstanding energy savings.
  • MINERGIE buildings are 60 to 85 percent more energy efficient than conventional buildings, but do not necessarily cost much more to build. For example, IBM recently renovated its Swiss headquarters and upgraded it to the MINERGIE standard for an additional 0.71 percent of the total project cost.
  • The difference between initial investment costs and lifecycle costs is like the tip of an iceberg vs. the largest part of the iceberg we can't see. Energy efficiency reduces lifecycle costs that are incurred for all the years a building is in operation.
  • In the United States, a public/private sector coalition called the High Performance Building Council is developing high performance building metrics that will allow building owners to prioritize -- and designers to integrate -- multiple building attributes including energy efficiency, security, accessibility, cost-effectiveness, and durability.
  • New American buildings need to be designed “from the cradle to the grave.” (Some even advocate for "cradle to cradle" design). Designers need to account not only for buildings’ construction and service lives, but also environmental impacts at the time of disassembly.
  • High performance buildings are widespread in Switzerland, and have become a cultural expectation. Switzerland has certified 14,500 buildings with the MINERGIE standard. In the United States, only 1,950 buildings have been certified with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) label, one of the better-known green building rating systems.
  • LEED certifies green design, whereas MINERGIE certifies energy efficiency.

Speaker Slides