There is no bigger stage for climate change than this week's global-warming gathering in Denmark. Let's hope when the time comes to discuss the world's energy and environmental future, global leaders - including President Barack Obama - focus on the practical as well as the promising.
Without question, the most significant opportunity to save energy and the environment stretches high into the sky along the streets and avenues of our cities. Commercial and industrial buildings consume the most energy around the world, bar none.
Admittedly, building efficiency is not sexy like renewable energy sources wind and solar, which are certain to be the darlings of the climate conference. But better-run skyscrapers and factories hold the cheapest, cleanest means of extending world energy supplies. And, by controlling our energy usage, we individually and collectively control our emissions, our energy security and our economic future.
The benefits of using less energy correlate directly to a sustainable environment and a sustainable economy. More efficient buildings produce four times the environmental impact of renewable energy, which seems to have all the momentum toward becoming the future of global energy supply. Every dollar an executive or building owner saves in overhead, such as energy expense, is equivalent to three dollars of revenue.
Yet, less than 1 percent of all commercial and industrial companies use advanced technology to measure and manage energy spending. Nearly all companies, however, use advanced technology to measure and manage telecommunications spending. In other words, companies will scrutinize employee cell phone bills while completely ignoring wasted energy at 100 times the cost.
What's most compelling are the actual savings that can be realized through energy efficiency solutions for buildings. The reduction in energy use, depending on the source, could save the United States an estimated $1.2 trillion by 2020 with an annual investment of $50 billion in energy efficiency technologies.
The biggest barrier, however, seems to be lack of understanding by many of those who own the buildings and the companies - especially small to mid-sized businesses - with the most opportunity to benefit. One survey of hundreds of business executives, for example, found: 87 percent have room to improve on energy management, 74 percent do not have a handle on energy cost and 59 percent are not well-positioned in house to control energy.
More than likely, U.S. politicians, policymakers and scientists at this week's climate conference will take time to reflect and to look for new ways of doing things. This is paramount to improving what The Financial Times recently described as necessary to creating the next great stride in the standard of living.
In their special report on the future of energy, Financial Times' writers accurately stated every great change in living standards throughout history has had a revolution in energy at its heart. The revolution we need as a country - and as an economy - is one that focuses on what's right before us.
Coming out of the Denmark climate conference, my hope is that the United States realizes we already hold the keys to our economic and environmental futures. Those keys open the front doors to our nation's buildings and unlock numerous opportunities to save energy, cut emissions and improve profitability.
Paul Oswald is president of Environmental Systems Inc., which has offices in Milwaukee and Chicago.