Energy continues to be a strong priority for organizations around the world, upgrades to HVAC systems and controls are among the most common steps decision-makers take to improve their organizations’ energy efficiency, yet barriers to action still exist. Those were among the results of Johnson Controls’ fifth annual Global Energy Efficiency Indicator (EEI) survey.

Johnson Controls announced the results of the Global EEI survey at the 22nd Annual North America Energy Efficiency Forum on Thursday, June 16 in Washington, D.C.

The Global EEI survey was conducted online by Johnson Controls’ Institute for Building Efficiency, the International Facility Management Association (IFMA), and the Urban Land Institute (ULI). The research report, which targets professionals responsible for commercial energy management around the world, includes responses from nearly 4,000 building owners and operators in 13 countries on six continents.

The EEI survey asks executives responsible for energy use and real estate decisions about their management practices, investment plans, technology integration and financing approaches. The survey provides a unique perspective on the market through the lens of those making public and commercial building decisions.

The survey reaches a mix of CEOs, CFOs, real estate executives, facility managers and engineers, and sustainability managers in organizations from small sole proprietorships to global corporations with properties totaling tens of millions of square feet. It covers a broad array of industry sectors: government, education, real estate, healthcare, finance, manufacturing, retail, life sciences, engineering, construction, and more.

The 2011 EEI survey results showed an unmistakable growth in interest in energy efficiency: Seven in 10 executives said energy management was extremely important or very important to their organizations.

When participants were asked to name the top drivers for pursuing energy efficiency in their organizations, energy cost savings (not surprisingly) remained the single biggest driver around the world. Eight in 10 respondents said they expect energy prices to increase, and the global average expected price increase was 11%.

Incentives such as government grants and utility rebates were cited in 2011 as the second most important driver of energy efficiency — up significantly in importance from 2010 as a way to help fund energy efficiency projects.

Enhanced brand or public image was the third most important driver of energy efficiency. One leading symbol of branding and public image is the pursuit of green buildings, and interest in such buildings doubled from 2010: Four in 10 respondents in 2011 indicated that they had a certified green building. Respondents reported growing interest in green building certification and approaches and, for the first time, certification efforts were more prevalent in existing than in new buildings.

Other notable drivers for pursuing efficiency included greenhouse gas emissions reductions, energy security, and government policy.

Three-fourths of the respondents said their organizations had carbon or energy reduction goals, or both, and about one in four had made those goals public. For helping to achieve carbon reductions, building energy efficiency again ranked as the top strategy.

Although executives recognized the importance of energy efficiency, and many believed there were cost savings-opportunities, they reported significant barriers to pursuing investment. The 2011 EEI survey identified five key barriers to energy efficiency investments:

• Lack of awareness of opportunities for energy savings

• Lack of technical expertise to design and complete projects

• Lack of certainty that promised savings will be achieved

• Inability of projects to meet the organization’s financial payback criteria

• Lack of available capital for investment in projects.

The first two barriers — lack of awareness and lack of technical expertise, — were reported as the greatest barriers in India (31%) and China (28%). Barriers such as meeting return on investment criteria and finding capital ranked highest in North America (59%) and Europe (49%).

Despite these barriers, executives around the world reported pursuing an average of 8.9 energy efficiency improvement measures in the past year. Common measures included switching to more efficient lamps and ballasts, installing occupancy sensors, tuning up control systems and educating occupants. 63% said that their company had made HVAC or controls improvements in the last 12 months.

“There are common success factors among organizations more likely to invest in energy efficiency projects,” the survey’s authors concluded. “Organizations that set goals, analyzed energy data more frequently, deployed more internal/external personnel resources, and leveraged external capital implemented more energy efficiency improvement measures than organizations lacking those characteristics.”