Featured Alumni Profile

Jennifer Layke, Erb ’97, Fosters Thought Leadership in Building Efficiency

The clock is ticking on building efficiency around the world, and there’s not a minute to lose, says Jennifer Layke, Erb ’97, executive director of the Institute for Building Efficiency, or IBE, in Washington, D.C.

“Right now, we are building cities in emerging economies at a pace that means inertia is driving us to replicate the building approaches we’ve used in the past,” she cautions. “If we’re not fast about getting these markets to change, we lock into yesterday’s approaches.”

Buildings already consume 40 percent of the world’s energy and 70 percent of the electricity in the United States, according to Layke, who previously worked as deputy director of the World Resources Institute’s climate and energy program and a consultant for the World Bank and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“When you look at the scale and magnitude of the demand for these resources─and the externalities associated with that demand in terms of pollution, water consumption and natural-resource extraction─it’s clear that the impact is significant and has high environmental and social costs,” she says.

Layke took the helm of IBE in 2010 when Johnson Controls Inc. created it as a thought leadership platform for gathering, analyzing and disseminating information about energy-efficiency issues, advances and opportunities in the built environment.

“There is a tremendous need for those of us in the private-sector side of the market to help scale up energy efficiency as a sustainability solution, but the practitioner’s voice has been missing─until now,” she explains. “Johnson Controls is in the building-efficiency business and has a lot of experience to share with communities, partners and customers. We see this as an opportunity to accelerate the adoption of energy efficiency in the built environment and to expand our markets and services. But in addition to telling the world what we’ve learned, Johnson Controls is learning from our stakeholders about their concerns and needs. This platform is a two-way communication channel for receiving as well as imparting information.

To create greater shared strategic value, Layke has built a network of experts drawn from academe, industry and nongovernmental organizations who serve as a sounding board for ideas and a source of research and feedback on common concerns. As an example, IBE worked in partnership with the Rocky Mountain Institute on the Empire State Building renovation and jointly elevated the concept of integrative design─a collaborative method for designing buildings that emphasizes the development of a holistic design. The institute also has released white papers on other key building-efficiency topics, such as renovating to net zero energy standards and incentivizing building owners to bundle technologies to achieve greater energy savings.

“Among the most important components of our work is the Energy Efficiency Indicator,” Layke says. “It is one of the largest, most comprehensive data sets about decision making around energy investments in buildings.” The annual survey, now in its seventh year, asks global executives and building owners to report on the energy-efficiency practices, programs, policies and initiatives they have launched over the past year. “We’ve made a strategic investment in this survey tool and now we’re watching carefully to track how our data are being utilized by stakeholders to advance the conversation on building efficiency,” she says.

In the past, that conversation has been impeded by a lack of understanding and consensus among policy makers, as well as financing constraints on building-efficiency projects. Slowly, things are starting to change, Layke observes. The building industry is beginning to look at life-cycle costing rather than first costs when considering investments in energy-efficient technologies that deliver greater energy savings over the lifetime of the building. Likewise, the real-estate market is starting to differentiate between energy efficient and non-efficient properties, assigning “green premiums” to LEED-rated structures with high Energy Star scores and “brown discounts” to buildings that are energy guzzlers.

Looking ahead, Layke calls for more ambitious measures to help unlock what she sees as the latent demand for bigger energy solutions. First, utilities could implement “demand response” programs that give building owners incentives to manage energy demand at the building level by scaling back usage at peak times and installing energy-efficiency improvements. Second, cities could offer low-cost loan programs, such as PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) financing, which would enable building owners to invest in those improvements now and pay back the borrowed money over time through their tax assessments.

“There is an opportunity to fundamentally change the way we design and construct buildings,” Layke says. “The built environment is central to the human experience, so by investing in smart decision making about the built infrastructure we can improve our air, health, livability, livelihoods and so much more.”