ENERGY STAR Cities Take Advantage of Benchmarking’s Benefits

It’s that time of year again: the days are getting warmer and the annual ENERGY STAR Top Cities rankings are released. Once again, we find that the top five cities with the most ENERGY STAR certified buildings are all cities that have benchmarking policies in place. Moreover, 11 of the top 20 cities are participating in the City Energy Project. What makes this so noteworthy, you ask?

ENERGY STAR, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Well, to understand the significance of the answer, let’s go over the concepts of energy benchmarking and ENERGY STAR certification.

Energy benchmarking is a process to regularly measure and track a building’s energy consumption over time. EPA’s Portfolio Manager is a free online tool that makes it easy for building owners to do just that. Not only can one track one’s own building’s energy usage, but for 21 building types, Portfolio Manager can produce an ENERGY STAR score from 1-100. This score lets the user know how the building’s energy performance compares to similar buildings across the US. And, to add a competitive edge to the process, if a building receives a score of 75 or greater, it is performing in the top 25 percent of buildings of its type, thereby qualifying it for ENERGY STAR certification.

In many cities, the energy used to power buildings is its principal contributor of greenhouse gases. For example, in New York City, buildings account for 71 percent of its total emissions. Furthermore, in Los Angeles, a city dominated by a preponderance of car travel, buildings still produce 51 percent of its total greenhouse gas emissions. Because of this, focusing attention on energy consumption in buildings, and subsequently ways to mitigate it, is critical in the efforts to ease the strain of climate change.

Over the last ten years, city governments have increasingly developed policies and programs aimed at improving the energy efficiency of existing buildings. Benchmarking has become one of the key tools in their doing so. With San Francisco, D.C. and New York taking the lead, cities began passing mandatory benchmarking ordinances, requiring large buildings to annually benchmark using Portfolio Manager. Today, 23 cities and 2 counties have benchmarking policies. By having building owners regularly review their energy consumption, it allows them to understand their usage and encourage them to find ways to cut waste. And it is starting to have an impact.

An EPA study found that buildings that were regularly benchmarked were repeatedly seeing an average energy reduction of 2.4 percent per year. More specifically, New York City reported a 6 percent reduction in energy usage between 2010 and 2013 from municipally mandated benchmarking of its buildings. Chicago has seen a 4 percent energy reduction in the properties that have benchmarked for three consecutive years.

The hope is that increasing awareness around energy efficiency will have a contagious effect.

The EPA has certainly seen an increase in interest in their tool Portfolio Manager and the number of buildings being certified. Since 1999, over 30,000 buildings have received ENERGY STAR recognition. Last year alone, 7,500 buildings earned the designation, and in turn cut 7.9 million metric tons of greenhouse gases and saved $1.8 billion.

Recognizing the impact buildings have on energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, NRDC and IMT collaborated to launch the City Energy Project to support cities in their efforts to bring energy efficiency to large existing buildings. Many of the first ten cities participating in the City Energy Project have looked to benchmarking as a means to assist building owners, tenants, engineers and other stakeholders obtain the necessary information on their energy use and then, hopefully, determine ways to improve it. With ten more cities in the City Energy Project actively working to improve their building stock, we expect to see more buildings benchmarking, and in turn making improvements that could lead to ENERGY STAR certification. Stay tuned in the years to come for new cities to take their turn at the top of these rankings.  

About the Authors

Hilary Firestone

Senior Policy Advisor, City Energy Project, Resilient Communities, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program
Blog Post

Imagine owning a brand that’s both well-known and widely trusted by consumers and businesses all over America. Now imagine that it turns a $50 million annual investment into $30+ billion worth of annual customer utility bill savings, and has resulted in branded sales of more than 5 billion products since its inception. ENERGY STAR is that amazingly successful and impactful program!

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