City Lights

It’s the law, and it’s good business.

Energy benchmarking, comparing how your facility does against other similar facilities, helps reduce wasted energy and increase efficiency. In turn, it also lowers energy costs for building owners and benefits entire communities by meeting climate change reduction goals.

If you’re in facilities management, here’s what you need to know about energy benchmarking.

‘You Can’t Control What You Don’t Measure’

In an effort to promote energy efficiency, benchmarking has become the law for commercial buildings in many cities (plus two states) across the nation.

How does it help?

Simply put, “you can’t control what you don’t measure,” the team at SmartWatt writes.

Comparing the energy performance of your own facility with similar facilities does at least a few things:

  • It identifies underperforming buildings.
  • It identifies superior performance.
  • It allows for tracking future performance by comparison.

And it’s an inexpensive method that’s effective. “A recent study by the Environmental Protection Agency indicated that, on average, buildings that are benchmarked consistently use 2.4% less energy than those that aren’t, presumably because people are more aware of energy performance,” SmartWatt writes.

A two-percent reduction may not seem very impressive on the face of it, but when energy is one of the top three operating expenses for most companies, the dollar value of each percentage point can be quite high.

Lights at Night

An Introduction to Energy Star

The EPA’s 2 percent figure might be a little low, too.

Cliff Majersik, executive director of the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT), a nonprofit dedicated to promoting energy efficiency in buildings, says better energy management can save organizations as much as 10 percent on their energy costs, according to an Energy Star report.

In fact, the Energy Star program (which is a voluntary program from the EPA that helps businesses save money and protect the climate through better energy efficiency) reports total 10-year saving in energy costs for participating commercial building owners and tenants of more than $3.8 billion.

“Independent studies have shown that Energy Star-certified buildings (which have an Energy Star score of 75 on a 1–100 scale, signifying that they perform better than 75 percent of their peers) typically have lower operating costs, command higher rental rates, have increased asset value, and lease faster than non-certified peer buildings,” Majersik writes.

Tools Beyond Energy Star

Jenny Carney at Facilitiesnet calls the nationwide spread of energy benchmarking and disclosure ordinances “one of the more interesting developments around sustainability and existing buildings.” She notes that there are an increasing number of programs and tools FMs can use to make the most of benchmarking, calling the EPA’s Energy Star the “de facto (and free)” tool.

However, Energy Star does not tell you explicitly how to improve your score. Further, it is also limited in its ability to compare your building filtered by age, use or hours occupied.

Once you see how your facility compares to others, the natural next step is to make improvements, right?. So, Carney offers FMs a couple of immediate steps they can take if their building is found to be an energy hog:

  1. Investigate instances of excessive heat, cooling and light by comparing set points with actual needs.
  2. Upgrade to LED lighting, a step you’ll always see recommended in energy audit reports.

Additional Benchmarking Tools

Chris Pieper recommends using energy analytics software so that instead of simply comparing and tracking data, you’ll “gain visibility into several aspects of your organization’s energy performance, such as sustainability performance, attainable investment opportunities, operational improvement opportunities and real-time energy savings opportunities.”

With real-time analytics, several factors become clear, such as whether you should use a third-party energy supplier, whether your building qualifies for tax credits and exemptions, and when to take action to alleviate peaks in demand.

Energy analysis and sustainability consulting companies, such as greeNEWit and WegoWise, offer services that help building owners and facilities manager track, analyze and report data to ensure compliance.

Lights Everywhere

Better Data Makes Benchmarking More Accurate

Before you attempt any energy benchmarking projects, however, define what your goals are and how you plan to ensure data accuracy, BBG advises. Let’s unpack that a little further:

  1. Determine why you are benchmarking. Is it to reduce costs or improve efficiency?
  2. Know what your current procedure is. This is especially helpful if you are comparing yourself to a competitor (whose process needs to be similar to yours).
  3. Determine the type of data you will collect and how it will be analyzed before you start the process.

The data you collect is crucial. There needs to be a lot, and it must be specific and of high quality in order to be useful. For example, medians are better than averages and rigorous filtering is necessary to get the kind of report you require (age of building, size, climate, industry, and so on). 

IFMA Fellow Peter S. Kimmel has an excellent benchmarking guide for FM professionals. It explains how best to benchmark for your own organization in order to achieve your goals (e.g. for comparison only or use to make improvements), with a quick-start section for harried FMs who need to get up and running.

The Proof is in the Case Studies

Snohomish County, Washington

The Snohomish County Office of Energy and Sustainability in Washington State is committed to lowering energy usage by 30 percent by 2020. A case study by WegoWise found that one public building the county saved 62 percent over a two-year period on gas usage and 49 percent on overall energy costs simply by improving that building’s HVAC system to better match occupancy periods.

Through tracking energy usage, Snohomish County has identified more than $100,000 in energy and water saving opportunities.


The 2016 Chicago Energy Benchmarking Report shows progress is being made in the Windy City. “Between 2014 and 2015, [about 1,000] buildings cut their weather-adjusted energy use by 1.9 percent for a cost savings of $6.2 million per year, and they reduced greenhouse-gas emissions by 189,550 tons,” reports David J. Unger at Midwest Energy News.

Unger also says that the median Energy Star score for the buildings have also risen, from 51 in 2014 to 55 two years later. There’s still a way to go, to be sure, but that four-point rise represents notable emissions cuts and energy savings.

Energy Benchmarking Advances in 2017

At the beginning of the year, several cities and municipalities across the nation joined those with energy benchmarking ordinances. 

Deborah Teng, senior energy analyst at Goby, an energy management, sustainability reporting, and invoice automation platform for the commercial real estate industry, reports the following cities now require commercial buildings owners to disclose annual energy usage:

  • Denver — for buildings 50,000 sq. ft. and more
  • Evanston, Illinois — for buildings 20,000 sq. ft. and more
  • Los Angeles — for buildings 20,000 sq. ft. and more
  • Orlando — for buildings 50,000 sq. ft. and more
  • Portland, Maine — for buildings 20,000 sq. ft. and more

Some of these cities and others (Denver, Los Angeles, Orlando, and Pittsburgh) are looking into even more efficiency programs through a joint initiative by the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT) and the National Resources Defence Council, called the City Energy Project.

“These City Energy Project cities collectively added 1.4 billion square feet of buildings covered by benchmarking and transparency policies,” reports the IMT at The Energy Collective. “Nationwide, approximately 10.7 billion square feet of office space is now actively measuring and reporting energy performance.”

The same thing is happening north of the border, too, with the City of Richmond in British Columbia asserting itself as leader in the transition to low emissions buildings. 

The Canadian province of Ontario has already adopted mandatory energy benchmarking and disclosure. With similar proposals by Richmond, Karen Tam Wu, B.C. associate director and director of the Buildings and Urban Solutions Program at the Pembina Institute, says the entire western province stands to benefit. Benchmarking is a low-cost tool, she writes at Huffington Post, that is effective in reducing carbon pollution from buildings.

“Promoting high levels of energy performance will also improve the quality and health of the homes and buildings in which residents live and work, create jobs in the clean economy, and support innovation in the local supply chain,” Wu adds.


Jan Senderek
Davide Cantelli