Earth Hour: Dimming commercial building lights for a brighter future

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03_eh-60-logo_stacked-clr_jpegEarth Hour is the largest grassroots movement focused on building awareness of climate change. The movement, which encourages people to limit their use of electricity for one hour, has empowered people around the globe to mobilize – in person and online – in support of fighting climate change. From its humble origins in 2007 as a one-city event in Sydney, the movement organized by the World Wildlife Fund has grown steadily each year, and spread to 178 countries across seven continents by 2016.

This year marks the eleventh annual Earth Hour celebration. On March 25 at 8:30 p.m. your local time, millions of people will turn off their lights for one hour to promote a more sustainable future for our planet. In more dramatic fashion, countries and organizations will show their support by turning off the lights on hundreds of historic landmarks and monuments. Last year the Eiffel Tower, the Sydney Opera House, the Parthenon in Athens, and the Empire State Building all went dark for Earth Hour.

Earth Hour is an important reminder of the impact real estate has on the environment. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, commercial and residential buildings in the U.S. consume 39 percent of the country’s total energy consumption and account for 38 percent of carbon dioxide emissions – one of the primary greenhouse gases that cause global warming. In addition to increasing carbon emissions, the growth of our cities is causing harmful light pollution. A number of companies and cities that have participated in Earth Hour used the event as a launching pad for other energy management and sustainable efforts.

An international study published last year reported that 80 percent of Americans and 60 percent of Western Europeans can no longer see stars in our own Milky Way galaxy due to “sky glow” – the brightening of the night sky as a result of light pollution. While artificial light may not pose a serious threat to humans, it certainly does for the world’s wildlife. Newly hatched baby sea turtles, under the cover of darkness, crawl toward the ocean using the light of the moon to guide them. However, lights from nearby cities confuse them, and many wander toward artificial lights instead, greatly lowering their chances of survival. Migrating birds fly according to the moon, stars and setting sun, but lose their way near cities whose lights block out the night. They become trapped in the cities and crash into lit buildings or collapse from exhaustion.

These are just a few of the consequences of the built environment’s impact on our planet. Yet, with the influence of environmental campaigns like Earth Hour and sustainable policies such as the COP21’s Paris Agreement, CRE organizations, government agencies, utilities and businesses are becoming more aware of their role in climate change and are working to find solutions.

In 2010, the Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago (BOMA Chicago) partnered with ComEd and the City of Chicago to develop year-round voluntary guidelines for non-emergency exterior lighting, including façade, signage, street and tree lighting. BOMA Chicago member buildings represent 80 percent of the commercial square footage in Chicago at nearly 200 million square feet. If implemented throughout Chicago, the guidelines would reduce the city’s carbon footprint, protect migratory birds and decrease light pollution.

International bank HSBC has been a long-standing partner of Earth Hour since 2009. Last year the bank turned off non-essential lights at more than 200 global sites, and many individual sites engaged in additional sustainability efforts during the event. Going beyond Earth Hour, HSBC has made sustainability a guiding principle of the organization, from establishing a zero-deforestation policy to launching a Sustainable Financing business unit to support sustainable innovation. The bank affirmed its stance on climate change in a 2016 press release: “HSBC has a strong commitment to sustainable development and will continue to work with customers, clients, governments and business to respond to the climate challenge.” The bank plans to participate in this year’s Earth Hour.

Although Earth Hour is just an hour-long event each year, it communicates the message that small, individual actions such as turning off unnecessary lights in our buildings, offices and homes have a lasting positive impact on the environment as well as our wallets by saving costs on wasted energy.

Visit Earth Hour’s website to learn how you and your business can participate.

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