US cities try 'benchmarking' to make buildings save more energy
'Benchmarking' motivates owners to rehab their buildings to save energy, carbon emissions, and fuel costs.
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A free online tool called Energy Star Portfolio Manager allows owners to easily see their buildings’ energy performance and how it compares to other, similar buildings. The next step in the process is an energy audit, where an expert comes on-site to look for opportunities to improve a building’s energy performance.Skip to next paragraph
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The benchmarking program is one component of broader efforts for cities to reduce their carbon emissions and energy-related costs. A few years ago, Seattle established citywide goals of 20 percent improvement across the entire stock of existing buildings by the year 2020. Now, as building owners report benchmarking data once a year to the city, they will be able to see their progress in meeting their sustainability goals.
There will be hefty fees for any building owner who does not comply with the program by its April deadline – but the punishment stops there. The Seattle program, unlike New York City’s, does not require the benchmarking information to be made available to the public.
“Only people involved in a transaction with a building can request the info from the owners – this makes owners feel like the issue is framed in a positive way, rather than ‘shaming,’ ” explained Antonoff. The private nature of the conversation also allows the owner to provide an explanation for a relatively bad rating – maybe he or she hasn’t had time to work on improving it yet, but plans to, for example.
The program seems promising precisely because it requires so much engagement – the evaluation and reporting of buildings’ energy usage is complemented by education and action.
“We are putting resources into outreach and training because we really want people to understand why this is important, valuable information that can help them operate businesses more efficiently and increasing building values,” explained Antonoff.
By finding ways to work within a positive mentality, and increasing awareness of energy issues, Seattle hopes that it will reach its goals of reducing carbon emissions, reducing energy waste, and becoming a greener home for its residents.
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