Energy Benchmarking: A Driver for Sustainability and Energy Savings

by | Jun 18, 2013

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The Emergence of Energy Benchmarking

Energy benchmarking is the process of tracking a building’s energy and water use and using a standard metric to compare the building’s performance against past performance and that of its peers nationwide. By measuring the total energy and water consumption in a building, businesses can quantify their use against similar buildings.

As energy prices and building operating costs continue to increase, property managers and owners are determined to achieve sustainable solutions to lower their environmental impact, improve their bottom line and gain a competitive edge over their peers. This insight provides owners with the ability to understand the efficiencies of their facilities and to monitor building performance over time.

Over the past five years, city and state governments have begun addressing the immense amount of energy consumed by the building sector by requiring benchmarking and disclosure of energy performance. Energy benchmarking has become an emerging trend as several cities and states around the U.S. have either implemented or proposed this type of legislation.

Boston Introduces Energy Benchmarking to Drive Energy Efficiency

Most recently, the Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance was approved by the Boston City Council. The ordinance affects 1,600 buildings in Boston, and requires all commercial buildings over 35,000 square feet and all residential buildings with more than 35 units to annually report whole-building energy and water use. The ordinance follows the lead of other major cities that have enacted similar energy reporting and disclosure regulations, including New York City, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, Minneapolis and Philadelphia.

Led by Mayor Thomas M. Menino, the City of Boston is taking a bold stance to achieve its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 25% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. The ordinance supports the City’s Climate Action Plan, which stresses behavioral change and energy efficiency as key drivers for wide scale greenhouse gas reductions. By focusing on energy efficiency, the City of Boston anticipates savings of $2 billion by 2020 via lower energy bills.

Building owners are required to report water, energy and greenhouse gas emissions through EPA’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager every year for the previous calendar year. The reporting is then made available to the public and will incorporate energy and water consumption, greenhouse gas emissions by square foot, Energy Star ratings, and other building characteristics measuring energy intensity.

Energy Benchmarking in Other Cities


By February 2013, 87% of Seattle’s large buildings had begun tracking and reporting their energy use. Owners of buildings 50,000 sq. ft. or larger were required to submit their 2011 energy data in 2012 and data from 2012 for these large buildings should be updated and reported by April 1, 2013. As of 2013, owners of commercial and multifamily buildings between 20,000 to 50,000 sq. ft. are also required to submit their energy data for 2012.

New York City

Announced by Mayor Bloomberg on Earth Day 2009, New York City’s Greener, Greater Buildings Plan (GGBP) was hailed as one of the nation’s most ambitious efforts to reduce energy waste in buildings. Roughly 80% of New York City’s carbon footprint comes from buildings’ operations, and 85% of existing buildings today will still be in use by the year 2030. Thus, the GGBP was a primary focus of the Mayor’s PlaNYC initiative to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030.

Washington, DC

A city-wide Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions found that buildings are responsible for 75% of the greenhouse gas emissions in the District.  Therefore, managing and reducing energy consumption in buildings is central to the vision of the Sustainable D.C program that aims to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy. The Green Building Act of 2006 (GBA) and the Clean and Affordable Energy Act of 2008 (CAEA) established requirements for the District government to annually measure and report the energy use of all public buildings larger than 10,000 sq. ft., and for owners of private buildings larger than 50,000 sq. ft. to measure and annually report the energy performance of their buildings.

What’s Next?

Energy benchmarking will continue to evolve in response to market demands and as more cities and states incorporate it into their requirements. When a building is rated less efficient than its peers, it can negatively affect economic performance and competitive market presence, which can raise red flags for financers.  As more owners correctly benchmark their facilities, the energy usage of buildings will decline, resulting in a lower environmental impact, energy savings and a competitive advantage over other peers.

Jack Griffin is the Vice President and General Manager of SourceOne, Inc. Boston. With over 25 years of experience in the energy industry, Jack is a highly experienced engineer and an expert in all aspects of energy systems development and application.  His consulting experience includes energy efficiency, sustainability, distributed generation, district energy system development, and utility-grade design.

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