The GPIC: The effort to influence the Philadelphia construction industry

February 7, 2012

Jim Freihaut and his team are working to crack a market that has stubbornly resisted the notion of energy efficient buildings for decades, as he and his team are looking to enact a change in the Philadelphia construction industry, according to Environment & Energy Publishing (E&E).

The news source reported that Freihaut and his team, dubbed an energy innovation HUB for energy efficient buildings by the U.S. Department of Energy, are hoping to convince the Philadelphia construction industry to do deep energy retrofits on some 7,000 commercial buildings.

Freihaut is the Director for Technology and Operations for the Greater Philadelphia Innovation Cluster for Energy Efficient Buildings (GPIC), and is also an Associate Professor of Architectural Engineering for one of its partner institutions, Pennsylvania State University.

The innovation HUBs that the Department of Energy designated are modeled after the teams that tackled the crucial scientific challenges in the 20th century, according to E&E. Efforts like the GPIC are based on the thinking that when scientists and engineers are given top talent and a clear goal, they can deliver breakthroughs.

Freihaut noted that convincing firms to use more energy efficient building technology may be difficult.

"At the end of a few years here, we're going to have to be able to go around the architectural design and engineering firms in this area and say, 'Are you doing things differently now, or not?'" Freihaut told the news source. "And if they say, 'We're doing them the same way we did them five years ago,' we've failed."

The GPIC is looking to crack the code in Philadelphia, as their work in the city may represent the potential for energy efficient buildings across the country. The private sector is watching and awaiting the results, according to E&E.

"This type of stuff is huge on our radar, as an organization," Don Haas, who recently chaired the Philadelphia chapter of the Building Owners and Managers Association, told the news source. "Their mission and how they're approaching it, I don't know, personally I'd be optimistic."

He noted that the GPIC could play the role of an honest broker, instead of past attempts that relied on salesmen to push the idea of energy efficiency.

Greening buildings and relying on more energy efficient technology for structures is an emerging trend, as even some of the world's most iconic buildings are in the midst of a makeover. CNN reported that the Tower Bridge in London, England, recently received an LED lighting retrofit to show case the importance of adopting similar technologies.