One Big, Surprising Polluter Is a Target of the Kresge Foundation

When you think of the major bad guys in climate change, a few immediately come to mind: big oil, king coal, the auto industry. But there's another villain out there, and it's pervasive and insidious, appearing innocent enough but having taken over every city in the world. It's the building. The energy-inefficient building, to be exact. And the Kresge Foundation is gunning for it big-time. The $3 billion foundation grants about $140 million annually, and within its environment program area, energy efficiency is a major focus. Just two of Kresge's major grantees that focus on building efficiency, for example, have been awarded more than $5 million in the past five years to tackle the problem. (See Kresge Foundation: Grants for Climate Change.)

It's tempting, I think, to overlook energy efficiency as a big climate solution. It seems a bit quaint compared with say, a carbon cap or offshore wind. But that would be a big mistake. According to the Energy Information Administration, the building sector consumes nearly half of all energy in the country. In New York City, for example, just 2% of properties are responsible for 45% of greenhouse-gas emissions.

Efficiency is huge — politically low-hanging fruit in terms of climate solutions — and Kresge is well aware of that. The foundation backs a number of organizations that seek to make buildings more efficient, both by encouraging cities to call out and retrofit energy hogs and by trying to get ahead of the curve in the efficiency of new buildings.

For example, in 2012 Kresge made a three-year, $3.2 million grant to the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT), a D.C.-based nonprofit that promotes energy efficiency and green building. Its approach is "strategic intervention in the market to bring about widespread, permanent change," according to its website. (Read Kresge President and CEO Rip Rapson's IP profile.)

For example, with Kresge support, IMT worked with New York City to launch the largest energy efficiency benchmarking program, which requires building managers to track and disclose energy and water use.

Another big champion for Kresge has been Architecture 2030, a nonprofit started by architect Edward Mazria that seeks to dramatically reduce greenhouse-gas emissions resulting from buildings by changing how they are planned, designed, and constructed. The organization launched the 2030 Challenge, which seeks to make the building sector carbon neutral by 2030. Kresge has awarded the nonprofit a total of $1.3 million.

Architecture 2030 works with major architecture and construction firms to get them to commit to the goals of decreasing energy use in all new buildings and renovations, with efficient design, onsite renewable power, and/or purchasing renewable energy.

The organization states, "Buildings are the problem. Buildings are the solution."

Kresge hopes its grantmaking can get cities around the world to get that religion, and get those big bad buildings to shape up.