Thought Leadership

Benchmarking and Public Disclosure of Energy and Water Use

Submitted by Hanna Grene on March 9 2015
Helping Calif. cities save water & energy to meet climate action plans

You know how many miles per gallon you can drive in your car, and you can read the ingredient labels on your food, but I’ll bet that you don’t know how much energy and water are being consumed in the buildings where you work, live, shop and recreate.

The process of benchmarking and disclosure of building energy and water use makes this information publicly available and has been shown to not only reduce energy consumption and help property owners save billions of dollars in utility costs, but also generate local jobs and new business opportunities.

The value of transparency

Buildings, which are responsible for 30% of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, are black boxes when it comes to understanding energy and water use. Similar to mpg ratings, benchmarking helps building owners, managers and occupants document their buildings’ energy use, providing an apples-to-apples comparison of energy consumption to similar buildings using ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager®, a free online measurement and tracking tool supported by the Environmental Protection Agency.

California already has one state benchmarking policy in place — Assembly Bill 1103. This bill requires owners of buildings greater than 10,000 square feet to disclose building energy use to tenants or buyers at the time of a whole-building lease, sale or refinance. Buildings 5,000-10,000 square feet will be required to do the same reporting starting in July 2016. While this is a first step, comprehensive benchmarking policies that require this information to be reported publicly on a regular basis would yield increased energy savings, generate permanent local jobs and result in greater economic benefits.

Benchmarking with annual reporting and public disclosure also encourages property owners to track energy use over time. Continuously updated information can provide a record of improved energy efficiency as well as help in planning capital investments, such as efficient equipment upgrades, on-site generation and energy storage systems.

Local government leadership

Benchmarking also helps local governments understand their building stock, which can help them improve energy and water efficiency programs and track progress toward climate action plans.

Ten U.S. cities, as diverse as Seattle, Washington, D.C. and New York City, and one county have already adopted energy benchmarking and public disclosure policies, with more on the way. It’s no wonder that this is becoming a best practice for local governments working to meet sustainability goals. In New York City, it’s anticipated that 17,000 new jobs will be created by 2030 as a result of these policies.

When cities adopt benchmarking, they shine a light on the true state of affairs for energy and water use – and that can lead to cost-effective citywide energy reductions. In cities that have enacted benchmarking and disclosure policies, resource consumption has been reduced by 2%-7%.

In its energy benchmarking report, Seattle finds that if its “worst performing buildings improved energy performance to median performance levels, total annual bill savings would surpass $55 million and annual energy use would decline 25%.” Minneapolis has saved $6 million in energy costs in just three years.

A great opportunity

As many local governments throughout California, including Los Angeles and San Diego, consider energy- and water-efficiency policies in support of their climate action plans, passing a benchmarking and public disclosure ordinance is an important foundational step that would enable these cities to track energy and water use, measure progress and improve action to meet climate goals. 

It’s not very often that municipalities and jurisdictions have the opportunity to create ordinances that not only save energy and money but also create job opportunities. That’s the kind of lawmaking that really makes dollars and sense.

About Hanna Grene