Upon completing your assessment of the current state of your building’s sustainability, you probably already discovered several areas that need improvement. This portion of the Toolkit will offer some cost-effective ideas of technologies and best practices to implement in your facility. Each section includes information on who to reach out to for more information.

As you glance at these building upgrades, consider taking the next step and pursuing a building label, rating, or certification as described in Step 3: Rating and Labeling Step Three.


Buildings consume 70% of the electricity and 40% of the primary energy (i.e., natural gas, coal, oil) in the United States each year. As much as 84% of that energy is wasted. Off-the-shelf, energy-efficient equipment exists that can save you 30% or more in annual energy consumption, and this guide gives you an overview of the latest technologies that can save you money. Surveys have shown that the number one reason that building owners do not invest in energy-saving upgrades of their building is financial, so this Toolkit also explains a number of ways to pay for energy efficiency upgrades that don’t require up-front capital expenditures.

For detailed steps on how to improve the energy efficiency of your building, visit the Energy Efficiency section of the Building Owner’s Toolkit.

Installing on-site renewable energy generation, like a solar photovoltaic system or a small wind turbine, can help you save money and reduce your carbon emissions. Paired with an energy storage system and a microgrid, an on-site renewable energy generation system could help you keep your building powered during a blackout.

Depending on your state, you could even receive tax benefits or rebates for installing a renewable energy system—the DSIRE database has a comprehensive list of state and federal renewable energy incentives.

Consider pairing your renewable energy generation with an energy storage system. Solar panels cannot power your building when it is cloudy, and the same is true for a wind turbine when the wind is not blowing. Accompanying these panels or turbines with an energy storage system lets you store and tap that solar and wind energy at night or when the power goes out.

When installing a renewable energy system, it’s often a prudent first step to make sure your building is as energy efficient as possible; we suggest taking a look at the Energy Efficiency section of the Building Owner’s Toolkit and addressing energy inefficiencies in addition to installing a renewable energy system to ensure that your building is reducing its energy consumption in a cost effective manner.

An energy storage system—like a battery or thermal (ice) system—in your building can help you shift your building’s energy demand to off-peak hours when electricity is less expensive and when electricity generation tends to emit less pollution and carbon emissions. Energy storage systems can also help to integrate renewable energy generation on the electric grid and can be used as a backup in the event of a power outage. If your building’s occupants demand high levels of electricity reliability, installing an energy storage system can keep the lights on when your neighbors are in the dark.

Microgrids are essentially miniature versions of the electric grid that include localized generation and storage. Localized and increasingly clean generation allows microgrids to provide power to campuses and small communities independent of the central macrogrid. Communities and campuses with microgrids can keep businesses open and keep the lights on while first responders work to restore power. Microgrids are especially important if your building occupants have a need for very high electricity reliability—research facilities, hospitals, data centers, etc.

Microgrids can also help you integrate renewable energy generation with the macrogrid, allowing you to install carbon-free renewable energy to fuel your building in a sustainable manner.


Using natural daylight to illuminate your building is a free, healthy, productive and sustainable use of the sun. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, daylighting helps, “connect building occupants with the outdoors, reinforce circadian rhythms, and reduce the use of electrical lighting by introducing daylight into the space.” There is much for information about daylighting in the Occupant Productivity section of the Building Owner’s Toolkit, but perhaps the most compelling reason to integrate more daylighting into your building is that it’s free and produces no carbon emissions.

Also known as “daylight harvesting,” daylighting can be achieved using a number of technologies, including automated window shades, skylights, reflective interior paints, light tubes, light shelves, electrochromic and thermochromic glass, and more. The National Institute of Building Sciences offers an online course to help you better understand the different technologies used for daylight management.

If you are constructing a new building, making sure that the building orientation is properly aligned with the sun can drastically improve your building’s ability to harvest daylight. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “South-facing windows allow most winter sunlight into the home but little direct sun during the summer, especially when properly shaded. North-facing windows admit relatively even, natural light, producing little glare and almost no unwanted summer heat gain. East- and west-facing windows provide good daylight penetration in the morning and evening, respectively, but may cause glare, admit a lot of heat during the summer when it is usually not wanted, and contribute little to solar heating during the winter.”

If you’ve been on a plane at night recently, you know that cities can be identified by the dots of light emanating from buildings and outdoor lights. Reducing nighttime skyglow and light trespass is important for the sake of wildlife and humans alike. Outdoor lighting can have an impact on circadian rhythms, affecting how we sleep. Thankfully, there are solutions for mitigating the impacts of outdoor lighting without sacrificing lighting quality or energy efficiency.


Electric Vehicle Charging Stations

By providing electric vehicle (EV) charging stations or making your building EV-ready, you can promote and enable the use of electric vehicles, reducing dependence on foreign fuel, and also reduce the carbon footprint of your facility.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, hybrid and plug-in electric vehicles can help increase energy security, improve fuel economy, lower fuel costs and reduce emissions. In 2012, the U.S. imported about 40% of the oil it consumed, and transportation was responsible for nearly 75% of the total U.S. oil consumption. About 33% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation and 60% of that is from personal vehicle use. By installing EV charging equipment in your facility, you’re signaling to your tenants that your facility is sustainable and able to accommodate a rapidly changing vehicle fleet.

For more information on the three levels of electric vehicle charging equipment, visit the Electric Vehicle section of the Toolkit.

The following companies can help you get started with your project:

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Rainwater/Greywater Use

Rainwater, if properly captured and treated, can be used in your building for irrigation, flushing toilets, and for other purposed where non-potable water can be substituted for treated, potable water. Greywater—waste water from sinks, showers, laundry rooms, and any source other than a toilet—can also be used for similar purposes. Reusing water will help make your building more sustainable, which is especially important in states like California that are undergoing a severe drought.

Water Efficiency

Using water efficiently and using energy-efficient equipment to pump water within your building are two ways to reduce the amount of energy consumed (and the corresponding carbon emissions). Using less water by installing water-efficient fixtures means that less water needs to be treated and delivered to your building. Similarly, making sure the motors that drive the pumps in your building are NEMA Premium-labeled will ensure that they are not wasting energy needlessly. Taking these two steps will reduce wasted water and wasted energy—both of which are critical for improving the sustainability of your property.

Step Three!