Expert Q&A: The Power of Benchmarking in ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager® (Part 1)

Urjanet Inc  |  April 13, 2016   |  Energy & Sustainability  


U.S. cities continue to pass laws requiring the benchmarking and disclosure of building energy consumption. We interviewed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Jean Lupinacci, Chief of ENERGY STAR Commercial and Industrial Branch, and Leslie Cook, Program Manager of ENERGY STAR Commercial Buildings, to get their perspectives on the processes organizations are using to comply with the new ordinances. They discussed some common data hurdles that organizations must overcome and the resources that are available to help organizations implement and derive value from ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager.

Q: How would you describe what building benchmarking is?

JL: I would fundamentally describe benchmarking as a way to inspect performance and learn what can be improved.

LC: I would say it’s a management technique. You can see where you stand and compare yourself to yourself over time. Additionally, you can compare yourself to relevant peers.

Q: Where should companies start if they’ve never benchmarked their energy or water consumption before?

JL: The first thing I’d recommend is gathering your consumption and, hopefully, cost figures for both your energy and water utilities at the whole-building level. If you can, it can be helpful to also gather some history data so you can get a bit of a trend perspective.

LC: Sometimes folks don’t understand that it can take a bit of time to collect the information on the buildings themselves. It’s important to make sure you’re coordinating with any internal staff, such as facilities staff, admin staff, or other employees, to gather the physical and operational details that are required. Gathering this information and coupling it with energy consumption and cost figures is the first step and should considered at the forefront.

Q: Do you have any insights into the level of compliance cities are seeing?

JL: I think overall, compliance is fairly high, especially if you look at the universe of building regulations. I’m hearing that local policy-makers are generally happy with the compliance rate.

However, there are always some organizations that aren’t complying. Sometimes, the person operating or managing the building may have very little connection to the person who actually owns it, making it more difficult to access any existing records. Making contact can sometimes be a struggle in the first stage of the ordinance implementation. The local government is responsible for reaching out to the affected parties.

LC: Local governments often leverage local associations, such as those focused on multi-family, and other groups that have touch-points with the faith-based community. They target these types of associations to help get the word out.

I think there can be a bit of frustration with the initial process from the owner’s perspective, since they’ve never had to do this before. Sometimes owners say they aren’t going to do it and that it’s too cumbersome.

The cities do follow up with fines if needed. They have put these fines in place to show that they’re serious about the policy. In their ideal situation, they would have 100% compliance and not have to collect any fines. To increase awareness about the new benchmarking ordinances, cities are putting in help centers that are complementary to our own national help center. They even have in-person office hours and trainings in which they can get some extra assistance.

Q: What are some challenges you are seeing with collecting building information and characteristic data?

LC: Sometimes it’s difficult to capture all the building data in one place and keep it really organized. It’s a good idea to look at the input options on Portfolio Manager and understand all the information that needs to be collected ahead of time. Right now, we have spreadsheets that can be uploaded into Portfolio Manager that have fields for each piece of information that you need at the building level. We’re working on a data collection info sheet that communicates best practices.

JL: I don’t know if I’d say this is a particular challenge, but figuring out who within your organization needs to be involved in the project can take some time. The project needs to be communicated as a high priority, so that you can speed up the process of getting the relevant people on board.

Are your utility bills being funneled through your Accounting Department? Do you need to work with someone there to get everything up and running? Is there a more efficient way for you to collect the data in the long-run, now that you want to manage the process in a centralized way?

That’s a decision point that each company needs to think about. Sometimes companies realize that they need some external assistance or that they can come up with a better internal approach to how they are doing it now.

Q: How do you recommend that tenants, building managers, and building owners work together to get the data into Portfolio Manager?

JL: We actually have a tenant and landlord guide. There are some stories in this guide that describe how building owners can work with their tenants to gather operational characteristics of each building, such as the hours of operation and number of employees during the main shift.

LC: We’ve found that a good first step to making a building more efficient is for an owner to explain to its tenant the goal of benchmarking and what data is required. It’s possible that the tenant has actually been interested in sustainability and energy and water efficiency, but didn’t know who to talk to at the building level to get some initiatives going.

A couple of things we’ve seen that have been successful occur when utilities and cities work together to make the data more electronically available and emphasize whole building data access. This can help make the tenant/owner relationship easier. Also, service providers partnering with the building owners and tenants can be helpful in that they aren’t out there to just help people comply, but also to improve.

Stay tuned for part 2, where Lupinacci and Cook share even more insights on the power of benchmarking in ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager.

Want to learn more about the power of benchmarking in ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager? Our eBook, Building Energy Benchmarking and Transparency Laws: Simplifying Compliance and Creating Value for Your Organization, shares actionable advice on how to simplify the data gathering and submission process using Urjanet as well as three detailed use cases for taking Portfolio Manager data beyond compliance.

Grab your copy of the eBook to discover how you can make compliance a cinch and get the most from benchmarking in Portfolio Manager.

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About Urjanet Inc

Urjanet, the global leader in utility data aggregation, simplifies how organizations access and use utility data, enabling them to focus on their business. Our technology collects, processes, and delivers data from over 6,500 electric, natural gas, water, waste, telecom, and cable utilities worldwide.