Denver Watts to Water

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The Mile-High City of Denver, CO has long been nationally recognized as a hub of sustainable activity, in part because of the strong leadership of its city government. In 2005, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper launched the city's sustainable development initiative, Greenprint Denver. Based on Blueprint Denver, the city's integrated land use and transportation plan, Greenprint Denver was formed to expand the city's planning approach to include energy and the environment. The initiative aims to identify opportunities for the city to lead by example and to partner with community individuals, businesses, non-profit organizations, and cultural institutions to help realize positive change.

The foundation of Greenprint Denver is its action agenda, which identifies city practices and policies that integrate sustainability as a key principle within City government operations, including a goal of reducing the city's per capita greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. One of the first actions Mayor Hickenlooper took under Greenprint Denver was to sign the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement to meet or exceed the Kyoto Protocol targets. In 2007, the Mayor issued Executive Order 123, which established the Greenprint Denver Office, and adopted the Denver Climate Action Plan, which identifies ways to realize the city's commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and engage the broader community in Greenprint Denver.

To support the city's commitment to saving energy and water collaboratively, the Downtown Denver Partnership, in collaboration with the following organizations, kicked off the first Denver Watts to Water program in 2010:

  • City of Denver
  • U.S. EPA
  • Denver Metro Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA)
  • Xcel Energy
  • Denver Water
  • Metro Denver Development Cooperation
  • Colorado Governor’s Energy Office

Made possible by a regional grant from EPA to the Downtown Denver Partnership, the Denver Watts to Water Program is an awards and recognition program for energy and water use reduction open to all Denver metro area office buildings and hotels. The program was conceived as a way to encourage energy-efficient practices in buildings across the Denver area and to instill a spirit of friendly competition among the area’s building owners and operators.

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Lead by Example

The Denver Botanic Garden, with the help of Greenprint Denver, has increased its energy efficiency in many ways, including using LED holiday light strings for its Blossoms of Light and Trail of Lights events.

To support its aggressive sustainability goals, the city has taken steps to engage the broader community by leading by example. Denver has one of the largest LED traffic light inventories in the nation, which saves the city more than $800,000 annually in energy costs, labor, and maintenance, and is a national leader in demand side management (DSM). Under Denver's Climate Action Plan, the city is charged with aggressively pursuing opportunities for energy efficiency and renewable energy at the Denver International Airport, working to develop sustainable city buildings by using energy efficiency savings to purchase renewable energy, and making additional improvements to their municipal "green fleet" of hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles.

In addition to founding the Greenprint Denver Office, Executive Order 123 established the city’s sustainability policy, which includes taking actions to save energy, reduce water use, and manage waste. Among the action outlined in the policy is a requirement that new construction and major renovations of existing and future city-owned and operated buildings be Designed to Earn the ENERGY STAR and benchmarked in EPA’s Portfolio Manager. These buildings must also be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified. In early 2010, EPA released a list of U.S. metropolitan areas with the largest number of energy efficient buildings in 2009 — buildings that have earned EPA’s ENERGY STAR. From 2009 to 2010, Denver jumped from seventh to fourth place.

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Plan an ENERGY STAR Challenge

In June 2010, the Downtown Denver Partnership and its affiliates conceived of the Watts to Water program as a way to challenge city building owners and honor exceptional performers for their commitment to energy efficiency. A grant from EPA helped launch the program, one of four regional recipients, with additional funding provided by the City of Denver, the Downtown Denver Partnership, and Denver Metro BOMA.

Watts to Water launched in June 2010 with 28 million square feet of floor space across 130 buildings participating over the course of the year-long campaign, a nearly 30-percent increase over its participation goal. Each building had to complete a short registration process and then began the process of benchmarking energy and water use in ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager. EPA and Watts to Water staff provided support in using the online tool to ensure all contestants had correct, up-to-date energy and water use data. One office building and one hotel would be recognized across three categories: Greatest Efficiency Improvement, Most Efficient Building, and Super Saver.

Contestants received an array of tools and support in this process through a curriculum of energy educational workshops and seminars. Inaugural year participants were also encouraged to participate in a comprehensive education program beginning in January 2011. BOMA’s Best of BEEP and the Commercial Building Engineers Forum will provide shared experiences, challenges, and successes from property engineers in no- and low-cost energy and water management. Participants also received public recognition, media exposure, shared best practices for improved energy performance from a community of building owners and operators, and the opportunity to demonstrate their organization’s commitment to environmental stewardship.

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Support Energy Efficiency Initiatives

In addition to the Watts to Water campaign, the city of Denver supports several other sustainability initiatives across the metropolitan area. The city recognizes that saving energy and money improves the quality of life for citizens and businesses alike. Located among the suburbs of Denver, the Stapleton Redevelopment initiative is noted as a model of the sustainable community. The community was designed and built with energy efficiency, walkability, recycling, and water conservation in mind. Built on 4,700 acres of the former Stapleton International Airport, every home in Stapleton is ENERGY STAR certified, meaning they are at least 30 percent more efficient than the average American home.

The Wellington E. Webb Municipal Building is home to about 40 municipal agencies and divisions. It’s also a six-time ENERGY STAR certified building.

The city also hosted the “Denver Green Cities Forum” in November 2005, which brought together sustainability officials from Seattle, WA, Portland, OR, Salt Lake City, UT, Chicago, IL, and Oakland, CA to discuss best sustainability practices and accomplishments with Denver employees and citizens. The Colorado House of Representatives, with support from the City of Denver and other stakeholders, passed House Bill 2010-1001 which increases the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard to 30 percent by 2020, the second highest standard in the country.

Denver has set ambitious carbon emission and energy efficiency goals for its future as well. The city plans to continue to reduce energy use by 5 percent from 2006 levels, measured per passenger at the Denver International Airport and per building square foot in other city facilities. All new city projects are to be built and certified to LEED-NC Silver standards, and the city plans to implement LEED-EB principles into the operations and maintenance of its existing buildings.

The city has partnered with Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation’s Energy Efficiency Committee to incent commercial building property owners and managers to become more energy efficient through energy audits and improvements, to be paid back through energy savings. To this end, the city aims to attain a 50-percent increase in new ENERGY STAR certified or LEED certified buildings constructed or renovated in Denver over a 2005 baseline through construction incentives and support.

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Recognize Success Along the Way

Watts to Water inaugural member logo

The Watts to Water Inaugural Year Award winners were recognized at the Denver Metro BOMA 2010 Mile High Awards Celebration on November 10, 2010. Inaugural year involvement in Watts to Water exceeded its participation goal by almost 30 percent with 130 buildings registered representing 28 million square feet of office and hotel space. Winners were chosen in three areas:

  1. Greatest Efficiency Improvement, given for the greatest percentage gain in energy and water performance ratings based on data comparison.
  2. Most Efficient Building, given for overall highest energy and water performance rating.
  3. Super Saver, a juried recognition for superior achievement in energy and water management emphasizing overcoming unique obstacles and gaining efficiency through no and low-cost practices.

The 2010 winners demonstrated remarkable energy and water savings — and associated savings in costs and greenhouse gas emissions. For Greatest Efficiency Improvement, the Westin Tabor Center achieved an 80-percent improvement in its 1 – 100 ENERGY STAR score between 2008 and 2009, while the Aurora Corporate Plaza - Building C realized an ENERGY STAR score increase of 33 points in 2009 — almost three times its score in 2008. Granite Tower was the Most Efficient Building, and water use reduction played the greatest role in this building's 2008 – 2009 efficiency success story as it significantly cut consumption while maintaining consistent occupancy. Waterview II was selected as the Super Saver for its superior performance. The Waterview II building team achieved its great success through conducting analysis, adapting procedures and, most significantly, through engaging their tenants in the energy management process.

The Watts to Water program’s inaugural year proved successful enough that the program partners plan to host the challenge again in 2011.

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