While high-performance buildings are the obvious choice in the current sustainability-focused industry, it was only 35 years ago that the first standard for energy efficiency was established, setting the engineering engine of sustainability into motion.

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the publication of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)/Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) energy standard, now known as ANSI/ASHRAE/IES Standard 90.1, Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings. Since being developed in response to the energy crisis in the 1970s, Standard 90.1 has become the basis for building codes and the standard for building design and construction throughout the United States.

The anniversary of the standard was celebrated during ASHRAE’s 2010 Annual Conference, held June 26-30 in Albuquerque, N.M. For more information about the standard, visit www.ashrae.org/90.1history.

“Since its inception in 1975, Standard 90.1 has been widely adopted as the benchmark for energy efficiency in buildings,” ASHRAE President Lynn G. Bellenger said. “It has set the foundation for energy efficiency in buildings in the United States, and we expect that to continue internationally. No doubt, 90.1 has been a game changer in the building industry, and that influence is even greater today than it was 35 years ago.”

IES representatives said they are proud of the society’s association with Standard 90.1, which began when IES provided technical support for lighting to ASHRAE Standard 90-1975. By the standard’s 1980 version, IES was associated as a co-sponsor, a role that was formalized in a joint sponsorship agreement dated June 25, 1986. It states that energy-conservation standards must address all elements of the building that affect energy use and recognizes that ASHRAE has the primary expertise for HVACR and that IES has the primary expertise in illumination.

How has the standard contributed to reducing energy use? Figures show that, without consideration of plug and process loads, a building built according to Standard 90.1-2007 is 35 percent more energy efficient than one built in compliance with standards 90-75 and 90A-1980. One built in accordance with Standard 90.1-2010, to be released later this year, is expected to use less than half the energy per floor area than one built to standards 90-75 and 90A-1980.

Work on the standard—then known as Design and Evaluation Criteria for Energy Conservation in Buildings—began in 1973. The U.S. government’s National Bureau of Standards previously had started on a standard at the request of National Conference of States on Building Codes and Standards (NCSBCS). In 1974, NCSBCS asked ASHRAE to assume responsibility.

The goal of ASHRAE was to provide a method of designing the energy-consuming systems in a building and evaluate them so that the overall energy consumption could be reduced to a minimum while still maintaining occupant comfort.

Since being published in 1975, the standard has been republished six times, evolving as input from the building community was given and technology changed. Some 38 states currently have building codes that meet or exceed a version of 90.1.

In 2009, the 2004 version of the standard was established by the U.S. Department of Energy as the commercial-building reference standard for state-building energy codes under the federal Energy Policy Act.