A patchwork of Building Performance Standards (BPS)—policies aimed at decarbonizing the building sector, including existing buildings—are picking up steam nationwide.
As of September 2023, 37 cities and states have committed to the National Building Performance Standards Coalition, and several jurisdictions—including Denver, which hosted IFMA’s 2023 World Workplace conference and expo—have already passed specific standards with energy or carbon reduction targets. More jurisdictions are currently debating whether to pass their own standards.
The message to building owners and facilities managers is clear—these standards aren’t going away and are likely to come to your jurisdiction at some point. Anyone involved in owning or managing real estate should understand the basics of BPS policies and how to plan for the future, so you’re not faced with fines down the road, a point echoed by a panel at World Workplace 2023.
What is a Building Performance Standard?
BPS policies are just what they sound like—a set of performance standards that buildings—including existing buildings—must meet. The specifics vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but policies typically target either energy efficiency (such as in Denver, St. Louis and Washington, D.C.) or carbon emissions (New York City, Boston, Seattle). Some places, including Denver, are also requiring buildings to choose electric-powered equipment whenever older equipment powered by fossil fuels is ready for replacement.
“Generally, these are long-term policies that are often tied to greenhouse gas reduction goals,” explained Brendan Hall, environmental policy analyst for the EPA. “They seek to drive reductions through specific targets and deadlines that ratchet down. By having specific targets and deadlines, including those that go out in longer time horizons, they can shift building owners to a continuous improvement cycle. What am I doing now to reach the standards that are a few years out, and how am I preparing long-term to make sure my asset is going to reach that standard in 2040?”
What Does a Building Performance Standard Look Like?
Every jurisdiction sets different targets and deadlines, so every BPS passed so far is different. However, there are some common themes:
- The standards get more stringent over time.
- Buildings are progressing toward net-zero carbon or energy performance.
- Continuous improvement is necessary to achieve the goals set by the standard.
Denver has different requirements based on the size of the building, explained Dr. Sharon Jaye, building performance policy manager for Denver’s Office of Climate Action, Sustainability and Resiliency. Buildings that are 25,000 square feet or larger are held to the strictest standards; they must submit annual energy use benchmarking, meet performance requirements based on the building’s Energy Use Intensity (EUI), electrify when replacing space and water heating equipment at the end of its life, and install a cool roof or meet other compliance options when it’s time to replace the roof.
Buildings between 5,000 and 24,999 square feet don’t have to complete benchmarking reports or meet energy requirements, but they do have to meet one of two compliance paths to meet the standard. They can either 1) prove that 90% of the building’s total lighting load is provided by LED lighting, or that all lighting meets the 2019 Denver Building and Fire Code for lighting power density, or 2) use on-site or off-site renewable power generation to meet at least 20% of the building’s annual site energy usage.
Buildings under 5,000 square feet don’t have to meet any performance requirements, but they do have to partially electrify when replacing gas-fired heating and cooling equipment at the end of their lives.
5 Next Steps for Facilities Managers
Regardless of whether your jurisdiction is debating BPS adoption, it’s important to prepare for the future, advised Zachary Hart, associate director of energy and sustainability programs for energy intelligence provider Touchstone IQ. Hart offered five tips to help any facility professional get ready for a BPS policy.
1. Know the law. Understand your building’s final and interim performance targets. Some laws require you to hit a goal in the short term—say, 10 years from now—but in some places, like New York City, the requirements stretch out to 2050, Hart said. “You really have to keep the future in mind and have a long-term plan for how you’re going to meet your requirements,” he urged.
2. Make sure your benchmarking is correct. Are you already benchmarking in ENERGY STAR’s Portfolio Manager tool? If so, make sure all your building use types are covered, especially if you have a mixed-use building that has restaurants or another energy-intensive use type.
3. Identify operational and capital improvement opportunities in each building. “Facilities managers who have an idea of what you’d like to do in your building to make it perform better, this is an opportunity to get those investments made,” Hart said. “Many utilities are offering free or subsidized energy audits where they come in and help you figure out where to invest your capital to meet your targets.”
4. Check for compliance support from state and local governments, your utility and even specialty lenders who may have financial products to help fund energy projects, Hart said.
5. Create a retrofit plan to reach your targets. “If you’re working with consultants to help you figure this out, make sure they really understand the BPS requirements and aren’t just giving you a standard set of products they know about,” Hart said. “The details of the policy are super important. …Make sure you’re working with people who understand the laws, because that can make or break your retrofit plan.”