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Climate Solutions: St. Louis Leads Midwest with New Building Energy Performance Standard

Now more than ever, the climate crisis is on the minds of people all around the world. Due to the urgent need to implement effective solutions to this social and environmental crisis, we will be regularly featuring stories of climate solutions adopted at the university and at the local, state, and national levels to inspire and accelerate positive change.


It was a day of firsts: On April 20, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen met online for the first time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in that same meeting, cemented the City’s role as a climate leader with the passage of the first-in-the-Midwest Building Energy Performance Standard (BEPS). The St. Louis BEPS policy is only the fourth BEPS policy in the nation, following similar policies in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Washington State. On May 5, Mayor Lyda Krewson formally signed St. Louis’s BEPS policy into law.

What is a BEPS?

A BEPS policy sets building energy efficiency targets for all new and existing buildings in a specific area. A BEPS policy can be a powerful tool for reducing emissions: in St. Louis, which is working towards a goal of reducing citywide emissions 100% below 2005 levels by 2050, buildings account for roughly 80% of emissions, according to the most recent greenhouse gas inventory.

In addition to reducing carbon emissions, the St. Louis BEPS policy is expected to improve indoor and outdoor air quality by reducing the amount of energy – and the associated pollution – that comes from burning fossil fuels. Air quality improvements have important public health benefits—as one example, recent research has shown that exposure to long-term air pollution increases vulnerability to COVID-19. The BEPS policy is also expected to lower building energy bills, resulting in cost savings for owners and tenants; encourage the use of smart technologies that will optimize building energy use for people’s comfort and needs; increase the number of local “green jobs” associated with energy-efficient design and construction; and support the city’s eventual transition to a cleaner, more resilient energy supply.

Like the BEPS policy implemented in Washington State and Washington, D.C., the St. Louis BEPS policy will apply to large buildings over 50,000 square feet, which includes many buildings on WashU campuses. These buildings have already been required to report their annual energy use to the City of St. Louis since 2017 as part of the City’s Building Energy Awareness Ordinance.

A Collaborative Approach

With few BEPS policies to turn to as examples, the City of St. Louis has been working closely with staff from the WashU Office of Sustainability since the fall of 2019 to develop a strategy to set ambitious-yet-achievable BEPS targets based on local building energy benchmarking data.

WashU’s involvement – which is supported in part by a grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies – is part of a broader effort at the University to accelerate climate action through cross-sector partnerships in the St. Louis region and beyond. This collaborative, cross-sector approach is the foundation of several current and upcoming climate-related programs and events, including regional residential and commercial solar group-buy programs and the Midwest Climate Summit, to be hosted by WashU in the fall of 2020.

WashU’s connection to the St. Louis BEPS policy also extends to Alderwoman Heather Navarro, the bill’s primary sponsor on the Board of Aldermen: Navarro is a two-time WashU alum, with degrees from Environmental Studies in Arts & Sciences (’01) and the School of Law (’08).

BEPS Implementation

The first BEPS compliance cycle will begin in May 2021. After that, most buildings will have four years to meet their performance targets, which will vary by property type and will be approved by a Building Energy Improvement Board made up of local representatives from the commercial building sector, affordable housing, labor, utilities, and other local stakeholder groups. Increasingly stringent targets will be set by the Building Energy Improvement Board every four years.

The BEPS targets will be measured in terms of site energy use intensity (site EUI, or energy usage per square foot of building area) and will be set so that at least 65% of buildings need to improve their energy efficiency to comply. Buildings that are unable to meet the target will be able to work with the Building Energy Improvement Board to develop alternative compliance methods that will achieve meaningful energy efficiency improvements.

Ultimately, St. Louis hopes that its Building Energy Performance Standard will inspire other cities to take action to improve building energy efficiency, particularly now that communities everywhere are re-imagining what life must look like after COVID-19. The BEPS policy represents only the latest in a string of bold climate actions taken by the City of St. Louis, including passing a solar-readiness law in November – the first of its kind in the Midwest, and second in the U.S. – and surpassing its 2020 carbon reduction goal two years ahead of schedule.


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