February 15, 2013 | John Andreoni

In his State of Union address this week, President Obama mentioned that Americans need not a bigger government but a “smarter government.” Washington, DC’s city government started a movement towards smarter operations back in 2009 – by measuring and publicly reporting the energy use of all its buildings. That includes the government’s own buildings.

The city published the energy benchmark results for public buildings in FY 2009, which set a precedent for disclosure that New York City and San Francisco have built upon. From New York, we have seen a comprehensive FY 2010 public buildings benchmarking report and a pared-down report for FY 2011. In 2011, San Francisco published an impressive benchmarking report on its city buildings, replete with line and bar graphs for each building to allow for quick comparisons.

With no report of its own since 2009, the District had some catching up to do.

This past summer, I was managing DC’s new Benchmarking Help Center. While taking help requests from local building owners and managers, I received my biggest ask yet – from the District government itself. The Department of General Services (DGS) had been vigorously cleaning and organizing utility data for over 250 facilities that it managed. The staff were ready to benchmark, hopefully improving on the 2009 report with more reliable data.

The task at hand was momentous. We had four fiscal years of utility data for a total of 247 facilities covering 24 million square feet. There was also a feeling of excitement, as this would be the first time that the District had a clear metric to know which buildings’ performance could be improved.

The end result – the District Public Building Benchmarking Report – shows the public how each government building is using energy. Bad performers can be identified for rapid improvement and top performers, like the 11 public schools that reliably scored over a 75 on the 100-point ENERGY STAR scale, can be applauded for their excellent efficiency.

Beyond the benefits to the city, I took away a more personal satisfaction from this experience. The process of benchmarking gave me a new perspective on the buildings I pass every day here in DC. Cardozo High School, for example, is only 2 points away from earning an ENERGY STAR award. The John A. Wilson Building has stood for more than a century and still is above average in efficiency.

As other cities look to save money and become more transparent with building energy use, I hope they’ll take note of the District’s new report. The disclosure of all these buildings’ energy use is the first step of a virtuous cycle that will lead to a more efficient and, of course, smarter city government.

John Andreoni is an IMT program associate who works with the DC Sustainable Energy Utility (DC SEU) to assist DC building owners as they benchmark energy and water use.



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