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2021 Sustainability WeekSustainability Week 2021

High-Performance Buildings

High-performance buildings are efficient and sustainable buildings that maximize energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gases. These buildings create high-quality indoor environments with sustainable design, materials, and use in mind to maximize heating, cooling, lighting and ventilation energy use. Whether it is using eco-friendly insulation to reduce energy consumption, managing imperious surfaces to allow more normal levels of groundwater recharge, or use of smart controls to program lighting and HVAC when employees are at work, high-performance buildings provide an array of benefits to our environment.

Why High-Performance Buildings are Important:

High-performance buildings fall under the business concept of the triple bottom line, which is used to measure social, environmental and financial benefits in business operations based on the three Ps: people, the planet and profit. Let's take a look at how this applies to high-performance buildings:


High-performance buildings provide healthier facilities and that environment helps employees be more productive on the job. This provides a tremendous impact to those who work in state-of-the-art commonwealth facilities. Employees who work in LEED green buildings report being healthier, happier and more productive than employees in conventional buildings, according to a United States Green Building Council study. Also reported in the study:

  • 93 percent of those who work in LEED-certified green buildings say they are satisfied on the job
  • 79 percent of all employees say they would choose a job in a LEED-certified building over a non-LEED building
  • More than 80 percent of all employees say being productive on the job and having access to clean and quality indoor air contributes to overall workplace happiness


Investing in energy and resource-efficient buildings with lower greenhouse gas emissions builds a framework that takes into account current environmental challenges and blends them with our need to be good stewards for future generations.


Shifting to high-performance buildings cuts utility and maintenance costs, which in turn maximizes initial investments and leads to fewer long-term expenses related to building operations.

Some of the More Prominent Actions and Programs Undertaken by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to Achieve These Goals Include:

The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) manages more than 4,700 buildings within its complex and geographically diverse state park and forest systems, creating many opportunities to deploy energy-efficient systems and materials. The department is a leader among commonwealth departments in its push for high-performance buildings standards, such as — a green building certification program that recognizes best-in-class building strategies and practices.

In 2017, DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn enacted the DCNR High-Performance Buildings and Sites Policy which outlines what types of infrastructure projects are to be prioritized for high-performance development and green building certification. Further, DCNR staff developed the DCNR Sustainable Building Projects Guidance report to analyze past DCNR high-performance projects for the efficacy of specific sustainable features and practices, making recommendations as to which of those should be pursued in the future.

Under the DCNR High-Performance Buildings and Sites Policy, the Bureau of Facility Design & Construction has incorporated as many sustainable features as possible into each project, not just those that pursue a green building certification. The department currently has 18 high-performance buildings in its inventory, 17 of which are LEED certified. Learn more about those buildings here.

Other departments in the commonwealth, including the Department of General Services (DGS), Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) have taken equally important roles in setting standards for improving sustainability in existing buildings and in future construction, promoting sustainable initiatives for private businesses and projects that receive commonwealth grants, and finally in enforcing code for homes that ensure uniform energy standards.

What Can Commonwealth Employees Do to Get Involved with High-Performance Buildings?

DCNR encourages commonwealth employees to learn about our high-performance buildings and encourage more sustainable buildings in the commonwealth and in our communities. There are a number of resources online that explain the shift to high-performance buildings and the standards by which they are certified. For example, LEED is often recognized as the green building standard in North America. Green Globes is another certification entity that issues assessments on sustainable buildings. ENERGY STAR is a program of the U.S. EPA that certifies the top energy efficient buildings. Employees can then contact administrators to learn more about high-performance buildings and sustainable growth in their departments.

There are also sustainability tips employees can take home to help improve building performance each day:

  • Assess your home's efficiency using ENERGY STAR's Home Energy Yardstick or Home Advisor
  • Visit your electric and gas utility websites and discover rebate options for energy-efficient appliances for your home
  • Air seal and insulate your home to reduce energy costs
  • Use a smart thermostat
  • Switch to LED lightbulbs
  • Use appliances with high energy efficiency ratings – look for the ENERGY STAR
  • Manage your stormwater to help prevent flooding
  • Go solar or shop for clean electricity on PAPowerSwitch
  • Consider switching geothermal heating and air conditioning

For more tips, visit the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection's Go Green PA website.

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