Millions of Americans don’t realize that the elevators and escalators they use consume five times the energy Washington, D.C. uses every year.

Yes, the amount of energy and money spent on powering elevators and escalators each year is surprising. But what is even more surprising is that technology is currently available to cut this energy use by as much as 75 percent while reducing costs at the same time.

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All that’s missing is the recognition that savings are possible and an acknowledgement that elevator efficiency must — not should, but absolutely must — be included in energy efficiency recognition platforms and government sustainability initiatives such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR program. 

Elevators and escalators typically consume up to 5 percent of the energy used in a building, and much of that happens when the units are idle. During lunchtime and similar peak periods, elevators consume as much as 50 percent of the energy in a building.

But the information needed to help building owners identify the most energy-efficient elevator system — and the savings that will come by installing it — isn’t readily available. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that the recognition of both the problem and solution has been slow at best. 

Thanks to a new report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, this is all starting to change. At the 2015 American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers winter conference last month ACEEE laid out a framework for industry leaders and government agencies to set a common  approach for measuring elevator efficiency.

The framework could be the foundation to create measurements and recognition for the energy efficiency of elevators and escalators similar to the ENERGY STAR ratings already in place for heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems as well as many home appliances. 

The report also offers a variety of public policy options to accelerate adoption of major energy-saving opportunities in buildings across the country. Providing utility incentives or tax credits for using existing energy-efficient elevator technologies, such as those that reduce standby power by turning off lights and cab ventilation systems while elevators are idle, will significantly reduce total energy use. Other technologies — such as coated steel belts that replace cable ropes and advance dispatching software that can reduce wait time while cutting energy use — are immediately available to building owners. Truly innovative technologies, such as regenerative drives that turn gravity from the elevator’s descent into energy to power the elevator when it goes up, can reduce elevator energy consumption up to 75 percent, but incentives and energy savings recognition programs lack for business owners to incorporate these into their building plans.  

Having a common way to measure energy savings will be critical; without it, these technologies will be far less frequently employed than they need to be — and money and energy will continue to be wasted. Approved, government-endorsed programs to recognize the energy efficiency of elevators and escalators will allow building owners to better control their long-term costs and to showcase the environmental attributes of buildings. So the next time you push the elevator button, think of the opportunity that awaits.

Mandyck is chairman of the board of directors for the Urban Green Council in New York City and chief sustainability officer for United Technologies Building & Industrial Systems. He co-chairs the Department of Energy’s Appliance Standards and Rulemaking Federal Advisory Committee. He tweets on sustainability issues at @JohnMandyck.