The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)is expanding the Energy Star program to encourage the design of energy-efficient commercial buildings. Architecture firms will now be able to distinguish buildings that have been designed to be among the most efficient buildings in the country as "Designed to Earn the Energy Star." According to the EPA, commercial buildings alone emit about 20% of the nation's greenhouse gas emissions. A building design will be eligible for the new designation if the building is expected to qualify for the Energy Star label once in operation. Buildings that have been in operation for at least one year qualify for the Energy Star by scoring 75 or higher on EPA's 100-point national energy rating scale.

Existing buildings that have earned the Energy Star label use about 40% less energy than average buildings, without compromising comfort or services, according to the EPA. They also conserve natural gas.

The EPA has found that newly constructed buildings are not significantly more efficient than buildings constructed years ago. With this new designation, the agency hopes to call attention to building design practices that are expected to deliver energy-efficient commercial building space.

In 1999, EPA announced its national energy performance rating system for commercial buildings. The rating system now includes 10 types of buildings representing more than 50% of commercial building square footage across the country. Currently, more than 19,000 buildings have been rated nationwide, and more than 1,400 have earned the Energy Star. By earning and displaying the Energy Star plaque, organizations demonstrate their commitment to energy efficiency and environmental stewardship, while saving money on power bills, says EPA.

Introduced in 1992 for energy-efficient computers, the Energy Star label is now featured on products in more than 40 categories, including lighting, appliances, home office equipment, home electronics, and heating and cooling equipment. To learn more about Energy Star, visit