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In San Francisco, Benchmarking Paves the Way for Strides in Building Energy Performance

Written by: Fiona Dearth

The adage oft-heard in energy efficiency circles, “you can’t manage what you don’t measure,” has taken on new meaning this year in San Francisco. With the release of new data, the city is now able to measure the cumulative impact of energy management set in motion by building energy benchmarking requirements five years ago.

Commercial buildings account for 40 percent of all energy consumed nationwide and 52 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in San Francisco. As part of its ambitious Climate Action Plan goal of meeting 100 percent of demand with renewable sources by 2025, San Francisco passed the Existing Commercial Building (ECB) Energy Performance Ordinance in 2010. It requires energy benchmarking using ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, energy efficiency assessments, and public disclosure of benchmarking information for commercial buildings over 10,000 square feet. But it’s only with the first release of energy benchmarking data that we’ve been able to more closely analyze the environmental and economic trends since San Francisco’s ambitious benchmarking regulations went into effect.

A recent report published by the San Francisco Department of the Environment, in partnership with the Urban Land Institute, summarizes the results of San Francisco’s ECB ordinance since its enactment.  It finds that between 2010 and 2014, commercial buildings subject to the ECB’s requirements have decreased energy consumption by 7.9 percent and decreased source emissions by 17 percent. Although the number of full-time equivalent occupants (FTE) per building increased 13 percent during this period, net energy use decreased by 18 percent, resulting in a 28 percent decrease in energy use per FTE.

San Francisco has accomplished these energy reductions even as the local economy has continued to expand. Between 2009 and 2013, GDP in the metro area has increased by 19 percent and the total number of employed has increased by 11 percent. While commercial real estate values in San Francisco have increased by nearly 80 percent, energy use in commercial buildings has declined by 2 percent, indicating that reductions in energy consumption can accompany economic growth.

The report confirmed that San Francisco remains a leader in building energy performance nationwide.  Of cities that have published benchmarking results, San Francisco office buildings reported the lowest median EUI (49 kBtu/sq ft) and one of the highest median ENERGY STAR scores (tied with Minneapolis at 87).

At Waypoint, we see the value that energy benchmarking can bring for property managers, owners, and tenants alike. Energy benchmarking can provide insights into how your building compares to its cohorts and allows you to track consumption month-to-month and year-to-year. In addition, ENERGY STAR-certified buildings consistently achieve higher rents and higher occupancy than their non-certified peers. Through our Utility Connect Program, Waypoint supports properties in beginning the benchmarking process and generates benchmarking reports across entire commercial building portfolios to develop recommendations for energy conservation measures at specific properties with the greatest efficiency opportunities.

As this year’s ECB report confirms, measurement does indeed beget successful management and improved efficiency in commercial buildings. With more commercial buildings consistently benchmarking their energy use, Waypoint is always looking for innovative strategies to leverage this data to drive energy efficiency improvements in San Francisco and beyond.


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