Case Study: San Francisco’s Benchmarking Ordinance

The City and County of San Francisco’s Existing Commercial Buildings Energy Performance Ordinance, in effect since 2010, requires performing both annual benchmarking and an energy audit every five years. The policy applies to commercial buildings greater than 10,000 square feet and is administered by the San Francisco Department of the Environment and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

To benchmark a building, an owner/operator enters energy use data and building information, such as gross square footage and assessor’s parcel number, into the Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager tool. Portfolio Manager produces an annual report that includes energy use intensity (energy used per square foot), a 1-100 performance rating (if applicable) and greenhouse gas emissions from energy usage.

Transparency is another key element of the ordinance. Benchmarking information is made public and refreshed monthly on an open data website, Data SF. A thorough step-by-step resource for how to comply with benchmarking is online at SF Environment


San Francisco recently worked with the Greenprint Center for Building Performance at the Urban Land Institute to produce a report on their benchmarking data and related findings. The report showed energy use decreased 7.9% between 2010 and 2014, the first years the benchmarking requirements were in effect.  

Future Considerations 

San Francisco is currently exploring options to gain access to more non-energy building characteristics to understand energy use relative to building use and provide better context. Non-energy characteristics may include more sensitive data, posing a potential challenge to this goal.