For nearly five years, the U.S. Green Building Council of West Michigan has helped Grand Rapids property owners reduce their energy usage and hosts an annual competition celebrating the “biggest losers” statewide.
The council’s Grand Rapids 2030 District and annual Battle of the Buildings are part of broad efforts to reduce buildings’ energy consumption, a key clean energy tool to help address climate change.
But with widespread closures and a major shift to working from home because of COVID-19, organizers say the focus — at least temporarily — has shifted to indoor air quality.
“We have been focusing on healthy buildings,” said Cheri Holman, executive director of the U.S. Green Building Council of West Michigan. “We know the virus can be transmitted through the air. What we’ve found is few people are considering how their HVAC system plays into that.”
Indoor air quality has long been a focus for the USGBC, but it’s been tough to spark interest in the topic among participants. For one, it doesn’t generate the type of return on investment that energy efficiency upgrades have, she said.
Holman said the 2030 District and Battle of the Buildings have continued to hold webinars over the past three months. Instead of just cutting energy use, now participants are considering various ventilation control equipment. Those conversations will likely evolve, Holman added, to consider partial occupancy in buildings.
“There is a lot to think about with COVID and buildings,” Holman said.
Each year, the Battle of the Buildings showcases energy efficiency projects across the state, and now encompasses nearly 235 million square feet of building space in commercial, industrial and multi-family facilities. Past winners have included Van Andel Arena, Spectrum Health and General Motors.
Holman said organizers are still deliberating over whether to hold a virtual event this year. Another wrinkle will be how to factor in energy consumption losses “now that we have this period where people might not have used their buildings at all.”