The Firebird, a sculpture by
Niki de Saint Phalle.

A groundbreaking program in Charlotte’s downtown core measures buildings’ resource use—and shows the path to savings.

As communities around the world struggle to strike a balance between the need for urban development and the need to manage natural resources in a sustainable manner, the city of Charlotte, North Carolina, is two years into a new approach that is turning the city’s downtown core into a working laboratory for sustainability and resource conservation.

The program, Envision Charlotte, is a public/private collaboration that is leading the city to become a global model for environmental sustainability. Envision Charlotte promotes economic development through measurable results community-wide. Proponents of the program believe that environmental sustainability, achieved through ongoing, formal stewardship of environmental resources—energy, air, water—and the management of waste, when combined with a pro-business approach, will greatly benefit the regional economy. And proponents believe that, by achieving this vision, Charlotte will demonstrate its leadership as a sustainable, progressive, cost-efficient place to do business.

Envision Charlotte’s overarching goal is to create a model for how cities manage finite environmental resources through public, private, nonprofit, and academic collaboration. Using the urban laboratory of Uptown Charlotte, the city’s central business district, the program is developing model programs concerning energy, air, water, and waste and discreetly measuring the effectiveness of conservation measures for each category.

The Duke Energy Center.

Charlotte Plaza.



Envision Charlotte involves a three-pronged approach, including model programs, de­­tailed measurement of resource consumption, and the leveraging of public and private resources. The model programs are designed to turn Charlotte’s center city into a living laboratory to foster innovative programs concerning the use of energy, water, air, and waste that can be scaled and replicated in other communities.

For example, Envision Charlotte has partnered with Duke Energy, which is based in the Uptown neighborhood, Cisco Systems Inc., and Verizon to launch and implement a model program, Smart Energy Now. The program involves a robust network of 70 buildings, and their owners and managers who will help achieve the program’s goals and benefit from the resulting energy savings.

The involvement of people who work in the participating Uptown buildings is a key to the program’s outcome because they will help change behavior, which will reduce energy demand and produce energy—and financial—savings.

Through centralized, real-time monitoring of building infrastructure systems, the Smart Energy Now program will enable building operators to understand the dynamics of their building’s resource consumption and perform analytics to improve its performance. Best practices can be shared across the network and communicated to the building’s occupants. Envision Charlotte’s organizers say that if participants can measure and document conservation efforts that improve the environment, the community’s business conditions—and the quality of life—will be improved.

Envision Charlotte is also designed to leverage the city’s strengths as an energy capital (a proposed merger between Duke Energy and Progress Energy, based in Raleigh, North Carolina, would create the nation’s largest utility company) and build on the city’s history of cooperation among corporate citizens, academia, and government. Charlotte’s key corporate players (in addition to Duke Energy, Charlotte is the headquarters for Bank of America and Wells Fargo’s East Coast division) are teaming up with other companies, academic institutions such as the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Wake Forest University, and municipal and county governments to create and implement the program.


A Look Under the Hood


How does Smart Energy Now work? Digital energy technologies, created and built through a partnership with Duke Energy and Cisco, have been installed in the 70 participating buildings in Uptown Charlotte. Each building measures 10,000 square feet (929 sq m) or more of commercial office space. Using 4G wireless technology from Verizon, the energy use information is sent to a central point, analyzed, and aggregated. Individual building managers/owners receive data about their building’s use, but only aggregated numbers are shared publicly.

quinnCharlotte_4_250 quinnCharlotte_5_351
Left: Each building participating in Envision Charlotte has a kiosk
installed in the lobby. Right: Envision Charlotte was introduced at the
Clinton Global Initiative meeting in September 2010.

The program has a robust education and engagement component. High-tech electronic communication kiosks are installed in the lobby of each participating building. The kiosks share the aggregated energy use information, along with information about ways to drive those numbers down. Volunteer “energy champions” are being trained in each building to help spread the word about managing energy use. Social media are a strong component of the program through a website, duke-energy.com/smartenergynow, and two Twitter feeds, @DE_SmartEnergy and @EnvisionCLT.

The goal of Smart Energy Now is to reduce energy use in Charlotte’s urban core by 20 percent over five years. The program was introduced at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in September 2010. The city, Duke Energy, Cisco, and Charlotte Center City Partners, representing the business community, are highly committed to achieving this goal.


Case Studies


An aerial view of Charlotte Center City.

The Carillon Building.

Hines is a large property manager in Charlotte, with two major sites in the urban core. The Carillon Building is a 25-story, Class A office tower in the heart of Uptown, with 470,782 square feet (43,737 sq m) of space. Hines’s Charlotte Plaza, a 27-story Class A office tower, has 625,026 square feet (58,067 sq m). Both buildings have signed on to Envision Charlotte’s Smart Energy Now program.

Michael Delev, property manager for the Carillon Building, says, “I have managed real estate in many cities and I have yet to see a program like Envision Charlotte that could transform the real estate industry and aggregate energy savings on a community-wide basis.” He notes that Envision Charlotte required cooperation among public and private property owners, single-tenant and multitenant buildings, Duke Energy, and the state’s utilities commission. “The information gained will have a profound impact on how a community, property owner, tenant, and individual will view and utilize electricity,” Delev says. Each building has real-time energy use information that allows building managers to see the effect of building systems and weather conditions, enabling them to quickly adapt their systems to save energy and reduce costs.

But participants do not have to be owners of large buildings to be major players with Envision Charlotte. For example, Dan Roselli owns the 90,000-square-foot (8,361 sq m) Packard Place in Uptown Charlotte, a 1920s building that he is renovating to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards. It houses high-growth entrepreneurial companies, and shared spaces for startups and business incubators. The building is also home to Roselli’s marketing firm and business incubator, which specializes in tech firms. Such companies, which typically employ a young workforce, are drawn to the sustainability message of Envision Charlotte.

Packard Place (in the foreground), The 1920s
building is owned by a sole proprietor
who is renovating it to meet LEED standards.

Roselli was one of the first to sign on to the program. “Individual building owners have the ability to make an impact in our community in a significant way,” he says. “Taking a building built in 1928 as a parking garage and turning it into a LEED building shows that every building has the potential to decrease its environmental footprint. Not only are our efforts at Packard Place good for the environment, they are just good business. Increasing the efficiency of the building envelope, placing a five-kilowatt solar plant and five-kilowatt urban wind turbine plant on the roof, and doing a building-wide solar hot water system are good long-term financial decisions.”


Up Next: Water


The next large-scale model program that Envision Charlotte intends to launch is Smart Water Now. Though still in the planning stages, the program is envisioned to be modeled after Smart Energy Now, with meters to measure water use installed in the same 70 buildings participating in the energy program. The goal will be a measurable reduction of water use over a specified period of time. Model programs for waste and air are in the works as well.

Charlotte, North Carolina is the host city for the  ULI 2012 Spring Meeting  to be held May 8-10, 2012. Register now.