The ever-sharpening focus on energy efficiency is increasing the number of cities and states mandating that buildings release consumption and emission data for public comparison.
Even in locales that don’t require energy reporting, a public building report card can serve as a promotional tool or starting point for a portfolio-wide energy-cutting initiative. Thankfully, jumpstarting this process is easier than ever.
How Ratings Work
The EPA’s free Portfolio Manager is likely the most well-known operational rating tool, with more and more cities and states naming it as their reporting method of choice. Its increasing ubiquity encourages an “apples to apples” comparison of your building against others in the area.
“There’s a major information gap in the real estate sector on energy performance, and it’s one of the biggest barriers to energy efficiency in the country,” says Andrew Burr, director of the building energy rating program for the Institute for Market Transformation, one of the nonprofits behind the rating advocacy website buildingrating.org.
“Many owners and managers don’t know how their building performs in relation to other buildings, and real estate consumers, tenants, businesses, investors, and banks also have no measure of how efficient or inefficient the building is,” Burr continues. “It’s a matter of getting the information to the people running the building and out into the market so that the market can take the ball and run with it.”
In February 2011, San Francisco joined seven other cities and three states requiring commercial buildings to benchmark and report energy use with Portfolio Manager, including the building’s energy use intensity, numerical performance rating, and estimated carbon dioxide emissions. Scores are kept confidential for a year after the building begins reporting and are then published at sfenvironment.org, the official website for the city’s Department of the Environment.
“The idea is to encourage a cycle where building owners know their building’s performance compared to others of similar size across the city, and tenants and market actors can make decisions based on the information,” says Barry Hooper, private sector green building specialist for the department.
“Some investors or tenants may choose to seek out buildings that are high-performing. Others may seek out buildings that are underperforming so they can improve the performance and therefore improve the value.”
Building Ratings in Action
At the InterContinental Hotel at Moscone Center, a 550-room luxury hotel in San Francisco, area director of engineering Harry Hobbs is no stranger to energy reporting. The LEED-EBOM Gold hotel, which spans about 690,000 square feet (560,000 of which is commissioned) started submitting information to Portfolio Manager when it opened in 2008 and has worked diligently to boost its rating ever since.
“The average across the country is about 50, and when we opened the hotel, our first rating was 64,” Hobbs explains. “We’ve come from 64 to 87, and it didn’t happen by accident. It’s something we work on on a daily basis.”
The hotel’s power provider, Pacific Gas and Electric, automatically uploads utility data to Portfolio Manager so the FM team can easily see their progress each month. Gas, water, electricity, and other building systems are submetered, with information available in 15-minute increments to provide snapshots of the building’s performance.
This year, the hotel has focused on further streamlining operations, driving down its utility spend to about 1.8% of revenue, compared to an industry average of 3.5-4.5%. Even hotel guests contribute to the InterContinental’s green efforts with an innovative discount program. Hobbs plans to supplement this green guest experience with a display in the lobby to showcase and explain the hotel’s rating, an easily updatable way to put your reporting results in context for visitors and staff.
“We have this new promotion that’s called LEED by Example where we offer guests up to a 10% discount if they do a few things,” Hobbs says. “We ask them to use public transportation while they’re in town, and if they bring in a receipt, we’ll give them 2% off. Every hotel has a ‘save the towels’ program, but we’ll offer 2% if you participate. We hope we’ll gain allies and share some information about the impact of these choices.”
Janelle Penny ([email protected]) is associate editor of BUILDINGS.