Better Buildings Through Benchmarking!

By Johanna Schweiss,
USGBC-Missouri Gateway Chapter Volunteer & Outreach Coordinator

These days, our ability to collect and analyze data is revolutionizing our lives. A fitbit can remind me to move and tell me details about my sleep. A budgeting app can remind me not to buy that extra cup of coffee. The more we know about any area of life, whether it’s our fitness or our bank account, the better we can manage it. You know the saying – you can’t manage what you don’t measure!

That principle carries over to one of the most basic best practices of managing a building – energy benchmarking. Energy benchmarking is the process of measuring a building’s energy use over time and comparing performance to similar buildings and to the past. Understanding where you stand is the first step toward saving energy and money.

According to the EPA, the average building wastes 30% of the energy it consumes due to inefficiencies. Half of all energy savings are possible through low-cost or no-cost operational improvements, but this opportunity for savings is often overlooked by building owners and hidden by investors. By giving building owners a sense of how they compare to similar buildings, energy benchmarking reveals these opportunities. There’s a lot of potential cost savings hiding in those inefficiencies, just waiting for building owners to discover!

Beyond cost savings, benchmarking and energy conservation in buildings are important for environmental reasons. In the City of St. Louis, building energy use creates nearly 80% of greenhouse gas emissions (citation). Greenhouse gas emissions are the cause of climate change, and they contribute to local air pollution. Energy efficiency is beneficial to all – it cuts costs for building owners, improves air quality for the community, and reduces our contribution to climate change.

St. Louis recently joined Chicago and a long list of other cities – Kansas City, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Washington D.C., among others – in adopting a policy requiring large buildings to benchmark and share their energy use. In 2013, Chicago adopted a benchmarking ordinance. Their 2015 energy benchmarking report stated that this policy has revealed $100 million in potential cost savings by improving poor performing buildings’ energy use to average levels. Imagine what that $100 million could do if it’s not being used on energy!

The benefits of benchmarking aren’t limited to big buildings; your church, your children’s school, your favorite non-profit, your city hall can all benefit from the cost saving potential of energy benchmarking. Using the free, online tool ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager is straightforward – you need a few details about the size of your building and how it is used and 12 months of energy use data.

Join the USGBC-Missouri Gateway Chapter to get hands-on help at the upcoming Benchmarking Jam on March 22 from 4:00 – 6:00 pm at the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Commerce Bank Center for Science Education at 4651 Shaw Blvd, 63110. Volunteers experienced in the tool will be available to help you get started or consider next steps. You can learn more about energy benchmarking and register for this free event on our website here: www.usgbc-mogateway.org/calendar.