NBI 20th Anniversary: The Arc of Innovation

Anniversaries provide the opportunity to mark a point in time and provide the space to examine accomplishments, purpose, and vision of the future. Staff and board members, some with NBI since the beginning, are reflecting on why the organization was founded, what we have accomplished in 20 years and how we will continue to drive market transformation going forward. We expect to move into the 21st year of operation expanding and accelerating our impact as we continue to work toward our mission. NBI has made some amazing progress over the years, but recognizes some of our most critical work lies ahead – achieving market transformation of the built environment to zero energy.

In 1997, a group of energy efficiency industry leaders got together out of frustration with the lack of meaningful progress on energy code advancement in the two decades since the first energy codes went into law. They envisioned a new organization that would be dedicated to advancing codes, conducting research and developing guidance needed to drive energy efficiency in the commercial building sector. This founding group included a blue ribbon group of energy efficiency luminaries Doug Mahone, David Goldstein, Jeff Harris, Michael McAteer, Steve Nadel, Doug Baston and Peter Schwartz. These individuals and others founded New Buildings Institute (the name “New Codes Institute” was also considered), as a non-profit with a modest and focused stated mission:

“Mission of New Buildings Institute, Inc.
To Create a National Collaborative to Encourage and Support Workable
Energy Codes and Design Guidelines”

The early activities of NBI set in motion the process of research and code development that began to revolutionize energy codes, standards and practices in the building industry. NBI started to shake up the status quo by anticipating and defining the future of energy efficiency in the commercial building sector, providing a bridge between efficiency and commercial building actors. The end results are in the numbers. From 1975 to the mid 1980s, building codes, in terms of efficiency, flattened. Not coincidently, after the formation of NBI in 1997, energy codes from the mid-1990s saw an increase. To help provide a practical framework for this newly, robust code, the Green Building Council released the LEED Rating System, helping drive meaningful changes in the design, construction and operation of buildings, advancing energy efficiency and green building practices.

Code adoption
In the early years, NBI engaged with the International Codes Council to advance the IECC and help achieve adoption in leading states and cities. Initial funding of NBI included California Energy Commission’s Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) funding launched NBI’s deep building energy efficiency research and development of design guidelines for industry professionals; “Getting to 50,” urging a 50% reduction in energy consumption for commercial buildings, became a program strategy for NBI; ground breaking studies, including evaluating the student performance benefits associated with daylighting; and uncovering the discrepancies between modeled energy performance and actual energy performance of LEED buildings.

NBI broke new ground with the development of a whole-building prescriptive guide to energy efficiency called E-Benchmark, a guide that saw five versions including the Core Performance Guide, which would form the basis of the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) and result in the single greatest incremental improvement in energy savings in the codes history. With industry leaders including NBI Fellow Charles Eley, we worked to transition the industry approach to efficiency from incremental improvement to absolute targets using the Zero Energy Performance Index (zEPI).

Today however, the context of COP 21’s Paris Agreement and the urgency with which we must act provides a greater rationale for our work. NBI continues to serve as a predictor of what is to come, anticipating what is needed in an evolving building industry. We act as a connector by translating our research into effective, useable solutions for building industry professionals and providing practical linkage between new ideas and market readiness.

Continuing our path
We have set our sights on achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement and the energy and climate goals advanced by leading jurisdictions, institutions and the private sector. Our industry leading Board members and talented staff are the bedrock of our capabilities. Strong partnerships that have been forged with other leading nonprofits helps leverage our individual organizations’ strengths and amplifies our collective impacts. We recognize that we and our partners must act now with great urgency to influence the sustainability outcomes for future generations. The actions of the building industry can demonstrate true leadership on energy efficiency and climate and set the direction that other sectors can follow, providing a positive impact and achieving our climate goals. NBI is proud to be a catalyst for change to help influence the industry.

For the next decade and beyond, we will continue to amplify and accelerate the energy performance transformation of our nation’s buildings. Our work to assist schools, cities and states, and utilities to build high-performing buildings, perform deep energy retrofits, and even achieve zero energy performance will remain steadfast. We will continue to innovate and evolve in order to expand our influence and impact, while finding new ways to fight climate change, drive the economy, and make our buildings across the U.S. better places to live, work and play.

Ralph DiNola, CEO