How Starbucks and Staples Could Bring Keystone to Its Knees

Starbucks, Staples, Simplot join better buildings challengeStarbucks and Staples have joined the agribusiness giant J.R. Simplot to give a boost to the Obama Administration’s Better Buildings Challenge, and in a way that could spell trouble for the notorious Keystone XL Pipeline.

The Better Buildings Challenge is designed to shine a spotlight on corporate leaders in energy efficiency and resource conservation, both to establish best practices and to create a competitive environment that spurs other companies to invest in building upgrades. If successful, the Better Buildings Challenge could quickly generate thousands of new green jobs, and in that regard it could end up shoving controversial fossil fuel projects like Keystone out of the spotlight as the most effective way to get more people back to work.

The Better Buildings Initiative

The Better Buildings Challenge was launched last year as part of a broader program called the Better Buildings Initiative. In accord with President Obama’s “all of the above” energy policy, this initiative looks at the nation’s supply of energy-inefficient buildings as a vast store of energy waiting to be tapped.

The Better Buildings website notes that:

“Last year, the buildings in which we work and live used roughly 40% of the energy in the U.S. economy at a cost of over $400 billion. Through a variety of efficiency improvements (e.g. new lighting, greater insulation, more efficient heating and cooling) and proven approaches (clear information, access to financing, energy efficiency investment criteria), we can make these buildings more energy efficient and better places to live and work while creating jobs and building a stronger economy.”

Specifically, the Better Buildings Initiative has the goal of making commercial and industrial buildings 20% more energy efficient by 2020.

The Better Buildings Challenge

The sticky wicket, of course, is providing building owners with proof that a well planned energy efficiency and conservation upgrade will result in enough bottom line savings to justify the investment.

One marquee project is the Empire State Building upgrade, which is quickly realizing millions in savings from a major energy efficiency overhaul. However, for most building managers and owners those kind of gains are out of reach. A group of more modestly scaled demonstrations would provide more realistic benchmarks, and that’s where the Better Buildings Challenge comes in.

Up on the energy efficiency stage

Starbucks, Staples and Simplot enter the Better Buildings Challenge with a tall order ahead of them. Starbucks alone has committed to reduce energy consumption in 14 million square feet of company-owned stores in the U.S. by 25 percent, by 2015.

J.R. Simplot has 16 manufacturing plants in the U.S. and has pledged to increase their energy efficiency by 25 percent within the next ten years, a goal it has already achieved at three of its facilities.

Staples has 43 million square feet of space in the U.S. and it has pledged to halve its carbon footprint by 2025. The company also provides a good example of the potential for growing a business while cutting carbon emissions. Already a partner in the Department of Energy’s ENERGY STAR program, Staples has used a combination of energy efficiency and green power investments to reduce its carbon emissions by 66 percent from a 2001 baseline to 2011, while its revenue grew 220 percent over the same years.

The three companies are joined in the Better Buildings Challenge by the utility PG&E, which has a long history with conservation initiatives. As an official “Utility Ally,” PG&E has pledged to provide analytic support to its commercial customers, totaling 30 million square feet by 2015.

Another partner is the alternative investment firm Samas Capital, specializing in working with local governments to provide financing for energy efficiency and water conservation upgrades, as well as renewable energy.

Also on the financing side is the private investment fund Greenwood Energy (a subsidiary of the Libra Group), which has committed to $50 million in building upgrades over the next 18 months.

Better buildings, green jobs

What all this activity adds up to is the potential for thousands – many thousands – of green jobs.

In terms of “shovel ready” projects, this a a no-brainer. While part of the Better Buildings Initiative is aimed at developing the next generation of energy saving technologies, the short-term gains can be realized with existing technologies, many of which can put to use the nation’s pool of skilled buildings tradespeople.

As an added advantage, the jobs are spread out across the country (basically, anywhere there are buildings), and jobs in short-term upgrade construction projects can migrate into longer-term employment in maintenance, repair, and additional upgrades.

Compare that to the risk-prone Keystone project, which by one estimate would create only a few thousand (very) temporary jobs, mainly clustered at the route of the pipeline.

Image: Some rights reserved by Anyaka.

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.

Tina is a career public information specialist and former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She writes frequently on sustainable tech issues for Triple Pundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, and she is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Follow Tina on twitter, @TinaMCasey https://twitter.com/#!/TinaMCasey.