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Intro to Benchmarking

Energy benchmarking is the practice of measuring how much energy a building consumes and comparing that against other buildings. As the saying goes, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.”

Benchmarking is the first step toward boosting a building’s energy efficiency (and consequently, saving emissions and costs).

Oftentimes, building utility budgets are based solely on previous years’ expenditures, plus [hopefully] an inflation factor. But unfortunately, this doesn’t account for weather. And many building owners and operators don’t know if their buildings are performing poorly, fair, average or excellent.

So if buildings aren’t benchmarked, utilities aren’t analyzed, energy consumption goes up, and next year’s budget is always higher. This cyclical process continues indefinitely.

Why Benchmark?

14 cities, 2 states and 1 county in the U.S. have passes policies requiring benchmarking and transparency for large buildings. These policies will soon affect almost 5 billion square feet of floor space in major real estate markets – making them powerful catalysts for energy efficiency in the built environment.

Cities with documented benchmarking and reporting policies in place are changing their community’s commercial building marketplace and finding other benefits: reducing energy, creating jobs, making their cities more attractive to young professionals and forward-thinking businesses.


The Cycle of Improvement

  1. Better measurement and awareness of energy use.
  2. Market compares buildings, compares savings and rewards efficiency.
  3. Competition to make buildings more energy efficient.
  4. Higher efficiency becomes the new norm.

When owners decide to upgrade their buildings based on the results of this effort, this creates jobs for contractors, engineers, and other building professionals.

How to Benchmark?

By far, the most widely used tool is ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager (PM). It is a free, online based platform widely utilized in the industry by both energy professionals and building owners/managers; which allows for tracking of energy and water performance, as well as changes in costs, and greenhouse gas emissions.


The ENERGY STAR 1-100 score, calculated in PM, provides an easy assessment of the energy performance of a property relative to that of its peers from across the U.S. It takes into account differences in physical and operating characteristics, as well as weather, to provide this national comparison.

Buildings that score 75 or higher can earn the ENERGY STAR label (just like a refrigerator!) But seriously, earning the ENERGY STAR has significant value. Besides these 10 very good reasons, the logo was recognized by 89% of households in a 2014 survey by the Consortium for Energy Efficiency.

The information necessary to calculate a buildings’ score can be gathered and entered into the tool by internal staff, or with assistance from a third-party consulting company.

But the tool isn’t without limitations. It doesn’t track the energy used by individual pieces of equipment, evaluate buildings relative to others in the Portfolio Manager, or adjust based on technology choice or market conditions (such as energy price). Furthermore, it is meant to explain how a property performs, not explain why it performs that way. For information on why a property performs in a certain way, EPA suggests an energy audit.