Hitting the Mark

By Eric Butterman

Benchmarking continues to sign on new cities. How can you win yours over?


Measuring or “benchmarking” energy and water conservation performance of any building can increase awareness as to how to make that building more efficient. And when benchmarking becomes mandatory for cities’ commercial buildings, this enables owners to improve decision making around energy use.

Passing a benchmarking bill seems to be almost an art in which only 12 cities or counties have succeeded. Still, for the areas that took the plunge, the results have been encouraging. But what is the best chance to pass the law in your area?

Philadelphia, able to benchmark energy use for 50,000-square-foot buildings and higher, was the sixth city to adopt tracking. Holly Shields, advocacy coordinator for the Delaware Valley Green Building Council, says it was a sweet victory—but not one that came easily. Before legislation was introduced, it was important to form the Coalition for an Energy Efficient Philadelphia. “It was about talking to contacts in different sectors,” Shields says. “We needed enough people whose experiences would allow them to hit enough areas.”

Still, once the law was passed, the work was just getting started. “We worked with building owners and managers on figuring out how to benchmark buildings,” she says. “It partly covered helping them to understand how to use Portfolio Manager (an EPA online tool) to find input data. There’s been a good compliance rate of 86 percent of buildings and we’ve extended our work to hotels, universities, some K-12 schools, and houses of worship.”

Katie Kaluzny, associate director of the U.S. Green Building Council Illinois Chapter, was part of making Chicago the ninth city to incorporate benchmarking. “We received help from within the mayor’s office and worked hard with building professional stakeholders,” she explains.

A key to influencing, Kaluzny says, was drafting ordinance language which made sense to building owners. “In the letter we showed what it would do for the city and around 85 companies signed it,” she says. “We took that letter to the local aldermen with why the ordinance was important and it passed in September of 2013.”

The official release from the mayor’s office said it would affect approximately 3,500 buildings and estimated 5 percent in energy savings would result in a $250 million investment. The release also cited an EPA finding of 7 percent savings for buildings that utilized Portfolio Manager from 2008-2011.

But, again, implementation was as important as passage. “Everyone has been working together to focus on education—we led 16 ordinance trainings between March and June of this year for the general public and held Benchmarking 101 talks,” Kaluzny says, “We had over 375 people attend courses. We also launched a call center for people who had questions after attending our training.”

Buildings 250,000 square feet and over had their first reporting deadline in June and next year will be the first reporting for 50,000 square feet and over. “This was crucial to pass because the ordinance covered only around 1 percent of buildings yet it accounts for around 20 percent of the energy used.” she says. “We’re looking forward to seeing the results of reporting.”

Atlanta may not be one of the select cities yet but their Better Buildings Challenge can be seen as a strong start, says David Freedman, executive director of the Georgia Chapter of the USGBC. It asks for a pledge from building owners and managers to save 20 percent on energy and water consumption by 2020. But it also encourages being an information leader, asking participants not only to share statistical information with the EPA but also to educate others on the technology and other tools they used to achieve their goal.

“Building owners have seen this designation as a status symbol,” Freedman says. “They’re clearly proud of it. I think they feel it can only be a positive for them.” Still, Freedman remains cautiously optimistic. “You’ll still have to go before the Atlanta City Council and it’s about educating the councils and constituents and making them feel comfortable supporting this. No matter what city, many people care about being green and you have to keep finding ways to appeal to them.”

Christina Kuo, who manages local advocacy campaigns at the USGBC, sees these efforts creating the momentum. “The early-adopting jurisdictions help open the door for three or four more other communities to begin thinking about it,” says Kuo. “We want to be sure we’re doing our best to seed that local conversation so this important green building policy begins to sprout up everywhere.”

Even though we wait for more city data, there have been other strides to celebrate. For example, BuildingRating.org, an exchange for information on building rating disclosure policies and programs, has already signed on 24 areas of the country. With continued mobilization, the amount of benchmarking bill cities may equal it in time.