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The United States population is continuing to grow over time, much like the population of the rest of the world. As the number of people in the country increases, it is imperative that we make sure that we use our resources wisely. Energy, in particular, is a finite resource in many ways. Using non-renewable forms of it for too long can put us in a very difficult position going into the future.

In order to reduce our energy consumption, we have to come up with many clever ways to make sure that we are getting 'the most bang for our buck”. In a recent article, we at ConsumerAffairs talked about how green buildings – those that use energy at a lower rate – are able to help the environment and save money for those that own them.

Researchers at have taken this research a step further, though. In a recent study, they found which companies and entities were taking advantage of green technology, as well as how much they could expect to save by going green.

Energy Star certifications growing

For the study, the researchers focused on companies and entities that met the requirements for Energy star certifications between 2001 and 2014. Energy Star is a program initiated by the EPA that provides standards for buildings so that they can lower their energy consumption.

Companies that are able to meet these standards are awarded with an Energy Star certification that lasts for one year. Companies are able to re-qualify each year, provided that their buildings continue to meet the standards. Since its inception, Energy Star has helped to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by an estimated 2.1 billion metric tons.

From 2001 to 2014, the number of Energy Star certifications has continued to grow. The graphic below shows how the number of certified Energy Star buildings have increased and expanded to different areas of the U.S. The researchers say that the number of certified buildings is now over 26,000, with more being certified every day.

PhotoWhile many companies make up a good share of green buildings with their offices (32%), they are not the only ones taking advantage of green technology. The researchers found that K-12 schools also make up 32% of green buildings in the country. This is followed by retail stores with 17%, supermarkets and grocery stores with 10%, and other smaller entities with 9%.

Schools take advantage

Some may be surprised by the number of school districts that have invested in green buildings, but the researchers point out that it just makes good economic sense. By lowering energy consumption, schools are able to free up money to pay for other expenses, like maintenance, teacher salaries, and extracurricular programs.

The amount of money that can be saved cannot be understated. A technical report from the Los Angeles Unified School District showed that a 1% reduction in energy costs would allow them to hire up to 25 new teachers. Perhaps not coincidentally, this same school district has the highest number of green schools in the U.S., with 142 total buildings.

In other states, many school districts are taking even better advantage of green technology. In Gwinnett County, Georgia, 93% of all schools meet the criteria for an Energy Star certification. They hold the second spot on the list of districts with the most number of green schools, with 126 in total.

Well-known retailers going green

Retail stores covered approximately 17% of all green buildings during the research period, many of which are well-known companies. Target was the retailer with the most number of green buildings, with 1,211 in all. Following them was Kohl's with 978, JCPenney with 648, Staples with 544, and Sears with 532.

While supermarkets and grocery stores have fewer green buildings (covering 10% of all green buildings during the research period), many of them have received special recognition from the EPA. In addition to being certified by Energy Star, these establishments work hard towards other goals, such as eliminating food waste, supporting sustainability, and improving efficiency.

Financial savings

If all of the positive statistics about green buildings weren't enough to get companies to certify, then they can always look at the potentially huge financial savings that go along with it. The EPA estimates that, over a three-year period, buildings who met Energy Star certification standards had yearly energy savings of 2.4%.

While that number may seem marginal to some, rest assured that it is not. In their study, the researchers included some calculations that can put that number in perspective.

At 2.4%, a 500,000 square foot office building had the potential to save roughly $120,000 per year by having their certification. For an 800,000 square foot school district, yearly savings were estimated to be near $140,000. A medium box retailer with 500 stores could expect to save $2.5 million every year, and a full-service hotel chain with 100 properties would save $4.1 million every year. Those numbers are nothing to scoff at by anyone's standards.

Setting an example

With all of the benefits that green technology can provide, one can only hope that they continue to flourish in the U.S. The researchers hope that their work can provide positive examples of what green technology is capable of. They applaud the companies who have taken steps thus far in reducing their energy consumption.

“We created this project to shed light on how Energy Star certification can benefit the participating businesses, the greater community, and the environment as a whole. We also wanted to highlight the companies and organizations that are doing their part with the hopes that more entities will be inspired to commit to greater energy efficiency,” said Amanda Milligan, the study's project manager.

For more information, you can read the team's full study here.  

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