The Rutgers University Center for Green Building (RCGB) has recruited West Windsor Township to be the first community to participate in a new program seeking to make existing commercial building more energy efficient.

The center pitched West Windsor on the idea in September due to the town’s reputation for being a sustainable, progressive community, said RCGB’s Jennifer Senick, who made a presentation to the town’s environmental commission. The township council approved the deal with Rutgers on October 1. Michael Hornsby, chairman of the West Windsor Environmental Commission said the program is being funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Included in the program would be properties along Route 1 with a Princeton address but that are physically located in West Windsor. These include Carnegie Center, Carnegie Center North, and the offices on Alexander Road and surrounding the Princeton Junction train station.

“West Windsor would pilot some new initiatives to promote the reduction of carbon emissions from township commercial buildings — examples would be examining green building codes and perhaps have a green building recognition program,” said Hornsby.

According to Senick, the goal of the project is to reduce annual energy use in commercial buildings in the greater Philadelphia region by 20 percent by 2020. Senick said the project is focused on existing commercial buildings, which includes multi-family buildings over four stories high. Other residential housing is excluded from consideration.

“The plan is to use the greater Philadelphia region as an incubator to see how close one can come to reaching this goal, and then to see what policies come out of it that can be disseminated throughout the U.S. It’s the equivalent of a new Department of Energy laboratory for decreasing energy use,” Senick said.

Senick says the focus for the initiative results from the fact that the building industry has been slower to decrease its energy consumption than other sectors — such as automotive, aircraft, and train — and the Department of Energy outlined the need to appeal to builders.

“This recognizes that the part of the country we are talking about is largely built-out: there’s a large existing building stock and a lot of it is very inefficient, and there are a lot of barriers to improving energy efficiency in these buildings. Those barriers are market-based, policy-based, and technologically-based. There’s a lot of challenges to overcome,” Senick said.

The DOE program is a $129 million, five-year initiative involving universities and companies as well as interested private entities. Rutgers is in charge of coordinating central and southern Jersey municipalities, and West Windsor was targeted first.

“One of the recommendations,” says Senick, “was if an existing commercial building was being renovated by more than 50 percent of its square footage, let’s see if we can get that building up to an EnergyStar portfolio manager’s score of 75.”

That would place it in the top 25 percent of other buildings that are its cohort (same type or built in the same year). “In pursuing something like this, we would have to tell private sector owners about the incentives available to help them get there,” Senick said.

Elements pertaining to the interior of commercial properties, such as indoor lighting and fixtures inside the building, are the primary focus points of the Rutgers initiative.

The first step to implementing the program in West Windsor is making an inventory of commercial properties in the town and then reaching out to corporations and property owners through phone calls, surveys, and other methods.

Jennifer Souder, RCGB project manager, said graduate students from the Bloustein School recently worked with the West Windsor Environmental Commission to identify 274 commercial properties that could qualify. Yet to be identified are multi-family buildings.