DENVER — At office and industrial buildings around the country, heating, cooling, lighting and equipment take a big bite out of facility budgets. Buildings account for roughly 40% of total U.S. energy consumption, experts say, while energy makes up 28% of a building’s overall operating expenses.

The significant role that energy plays in real estate has prompted CoreNet Global to challenge corporations and their service providers to cut energy consumption by 50% to 60% within the next three years. The Atlanta-based corporate real estate association also urged companies to incorporate energy and sustainability requirements into all requests for proposals (RFP) for real estate and other projects.

That plea was made to about 2,000 real estate professionals this week during the CoreNet Global Summit in Denver. At the conference, CoreNet and the Rocky Mountain Institute, a Snowmass, Colo.-based research group, released a study indicating that fewer than half of all corporations have adopted energy policies or energy consumption targets.

“We’ve concluded from our research that corporations and service providers are failing to grasp the low-hanging fruit of energy savings that could make an important difference to our environment and to their very own bottom lines,” said Eric Bowles, director of global research at CoreNet.

Bowles said that adding energy and sustainability requirements to corporate RFPs will be a key element in driving the “green” movement by sending a positive message to the real estate market. Members of CoreNet Global own or lease $1.2 trillion worth of office and industrial buildings.

As part of the study, more than 240 real estate players — such as developers, corporate real estate executives and facilities managers — were surveyed, and 15 corporate case studies were evaluated. Two-thirds of the survey respondents were in North America. The survey showed that less than one-third of corporations have appointed a senior-level executive to oversee energy management, and only 5% link employee compensation incentives to energy efficiency.

CoreNet recommended that all new building projects incorporate minimum LEED certification or similar “green” standards. “We’re not trying to tell people that every building should be retrofitted now,” Bowles says.

The corporate world does, however, seem to recognize the magnitude of sustainability and energy efficiency. In the survey, 83% of executives ranked sustainability as important over the next 10 years and 94% ranked energy efficiency as important. More than two-thirds of the executives surveyed expect budgets earmarked for sustainability and energy efficiency to rise over the next five years.

In spite of lackluster corporate initiatives in green building uncovered by the survey, Bowles cautions that it is not bad news. “This is really about an opportunity.”