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Commercial Building Initiative

The Commercial Building Initiative (CBI) aims to significantly improve the energy efficiency of new and existing commercial buildings. To achieve this goal, CBI researches technologies, strategies, and tools to improve energy savings over current building codes. CBI also engages commercial building owners and operators to ensure these technologies are market-ready.

Commercial Building InitiativeZion National Park's Visitor's Center uses primarily daylighting to light the interior and thermal mass

Flooring for heating in the winter. Courtesy of NREL/Robb Williamson

About the Commercial Building Initiative

The Commercial Building Initiative is a government research program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) that focuses on improving the energy efficiency of commercial buildings in the United States. Here you will learn more about the initiative, research areas, and audience.

Launched in August 2008, the Commercial Building Initiative (CBI) is the umbrella initiative that will guide and coordinate public and private partnerships to advance the development and market adoption of dramatic energy efficiency improvements in new and existing buildings. CBI works with researchers at DOE national laboratories, as well as with public and private partners, to develop technologies and strategies to improve building efficiency. Learn more about CBI in this fact sheet. Section 2.2 of the Building Technologies Program 2008 Multi-Year Program Plan (MYP) discusses CBI's goals.

Technologies and Research

View CBI's Key Research Areas for a list of the core, congressionally-funded research efforts, which include indoor environmental quality, controls and diagnostics, and space conditioning. Also, DOE is researching the commercialization of advanced lighting solutions that achieve 50% energy savings. Section 2.3 of the 2008 MYP provides information about DOE's work in lighting. The CBI technology development managers oversee all these research efforts.


CBI provides resources and tools to help commercial builders, building owners, contractors, engineers, and architects use whole building design and technologies to reduce energy use in commercial buildings.

Government, health care, school, office, and retail buildings can potentially cut energy costs in half, while improving building quality and comfort.

Goals and Objectives

The U.S. Department of Energy's Commercial Building Initiative collaborates with the private sector, national laboratories, other federal agencies, and non-governmental organizations to advance energy-efficient and green commercial building technologies. Here you'll find information about the Commercial Building Initiative's (CBI) goal and objectives, key activities, and the Multi-Year Program Plan.

Commercial Building Initiative's Goal

CBI's goal, as set by the Department of Energy's (DOE) Building Technologies Program, is to significantly improve the efficiency of new and existing commercial buildings to reduce national energy demand. Section 2.2 of the Building Technologies Program 2008 Multi-Year Program Plan discusses this goal and the strategies to achieve it.

CBI focuses on two key areas. First, CBI is conducting research to dramatically improve the efficiency of existing buildings. Key to this research is identifying the most cost-effective retrofitting strategies that also improve the safety and comfort of existing buildings. Second, CBI is looking toward the future by developing strategies to construct new, marketable buildings that achieve 50% to 70% whole building energy improvements, relative to Standard 90.1-2004.

To reach these efficiency goals, CBI is working with DOE national laboratories to improve how U.S. commercial buildings use energy. DOE has also established alliances and partnerships that bring together private-sector industry leaders to determine ways to reduce energy consumption, energy costs, and environmental impacts of commercial buildings.


CBI strives to do the following to support and achieve the goal of maximum efficiency in buildings:

  • Promote technology research and development
  • Sponsor pilot and demonstration projects across multiple climate zones
  • Provide technical assistance to encourage widespread technology adoption
  • Develop training materials and programs for builders
  • Promote consumer-focused education that makes clear the need for efficiency in new and existing buildings
  • Work with code-setting bodies to ensure technologies are properly deployed
  • Analyze and propose incentives for builders, landlords, and tenants to ensure that cost-effective investments are made on a life-cycle basis
  • Develop targeted tools for measurement and verification of energy savings

Multi-Year Program Plan

Learn more about the goals and objectives for energy-efficient commercial buildings in the Building Technologies Program Multi-Year Program Plan.

Whole Building Design for Commercial Buildings

Retail Day Lighting to Save EnergyUse of daylighting in a retail environment substantially reduces the electric lighting load, minimizes the cooling loads, and requires smaller cooling systems. This type of integrated design is necessary to achieve maximum energy savings. Courtesy of NREL.

Whole building commercial design considers all components and subsystems throughout the life of each project and is the most important step in achieving energy-efficient buildings. The Commercial Building Initiative (CBI) conducts its research using a whole building design approach.

Integrated Design Is Critical

Whole building design takes into consideration site, energy, materials, indoor air quality, acoustics, and natural resources. The design team must be fully integrated early in the process, during the Scoping and Pre-design phase, to address how these elements work together. The team should include architects, engineers, building occupants and owners, and specialists in areas such as indoor air quality, materials, and energy use.

Integrated building design changes the way architects, engineers, and project teams design buildings and leads to much higher energy performance. To be successful, project teams must:

  • Set specific and measurable energy goals
  • Develop strategies to meet the goals by planning from the top down and evaluating from the bottom up, by using resources such as energy modeling software or design guides from the early stages of a project
  • Create a structure that encourages communication among team members through methods such as charrettes (workshops) early in the process
  • Make each team member accountable for successfully implementing the strategies
  • Evaluate progress toward the goal frequently.


Compared to conventional buildings, whole building design reduces the amount of energy required to operate a building by incorporating energy-saving technologies. Benefits include:

  • Significantly reduced energy use
  • Decreased maintenance and capital costs
  • Less environmental impact
  • Increased occupant comfort and health
  • Improved employee productivity

Invest Design Savings into Energy Efficiency

Architects, engineers, and project teams can make design decisions that reduce the financial impact of energy-saving technologies. For example, sitting a building to maximize daylighting reduces the cost of lighting for the lifetime of the building. In addition, optimizing building envelope design will reduce heating and cooling costs. Savings from these design strategies can then be invested in higher quality windows or controls, which will also reduce energy use.

The High Performance Buildings Database provides business cases for projects across the United States and around the world. The energy, economic, and environmental performance of high-performance buildings is substantially better than standard practice.


Working with industry representatives and partners is critical to reaching new levels of energy performance in new and existing commercial buildings. Here you will learn more about the alliances and research partnerships under the Commercial Building Initiative that are moving us toward that goal.

The Commercial Building Initiative (CBI) recognizes that to achieve dramatic improvements in commercial building energy performance, industry representatives must be involved to help set research priorities and offer advice based on real-world implementation and deployment. Key CBI alliances and partnerships include:

  • Commercial Building Energy Alliances (CBEAs) - Informal associations of commercial building owners and operators who work to significantly reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions. Currently, alliances exist for retail, commercial real estate, and hospitals, with more to come.
  • Commercial Building Partnerships (CBPs) - Companies and organizations selected by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to work with DOE and its national laboratories on specific retrofit and new construction building projects to transform their building delivery and management processes. Their goal is to achieve whole-building energy savings of 30% or better in retrofits and 50% or better in new construction.
  • National Laboratory Collaborative on Building Technologies (NLCBT) - A group of five national laboratories working with DOE to research and accelerate the use of clean, efficient building technologies.
  • Commercial Buildings Consortium (CBC) - DOE-selected building industry groups that work with DOE to accelerate the commercialization of high-performance building technologies by disseminating new technologies within the commercial building community. A high-performance commercial building offers improved energy, economic, and environmental performance compared to standard practice. Visit the Consortium's Website to learn more and join.
  • High-Performance Green Building Partnership Consortia - DOE-recognized building industry groups as described in the Federal Register that will provide high-performance green building information and disseminate research results.

For more information on the Commercial Building Initiative, please visit Commercial Building Initiative.

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