October 10, 2017 | Wendy Lee

In August 2017, Salt Lake City became the 25th American city to adopt a building benchmarking and transparency ordinance, which is projected to save local building owners $15.8 million in annual energy costs and eliminate over 29 tons of criteria pollutants from Salt Lake City’s air each year. The intent behind this ordinance is similar to nutrition labels on our food products and MPG ratings on our vehicles. It allows for greater data transparency in the competitive marketplace, which aims to drive down energy usage, lead to energy efficiency being more common practice, and inform affected stakeholders from landlords to the public. At its heart, benchmarking is about data and information—all the buzzwords we love!

This ordinance addresses something else increasingly scarce in the complex and competitive building space: people’s time and attention. Salt Lake City’s Sustainability Department conducted dozens of meetings over the course of 18 months both in facilitated workshops and individually with stakeholders in the commercial real estate community. During these meetings, we heard over and over again how difficult it is to convince building owners and managers to take action on efficiency, even with robust utility incentives, free workshops, and free services.

The Department collected and documented hundreds of pages of notes on different methods and strategies deployed to improve building efficiency, yet there seemed to be a disconnect between helpful resources and building decision-makers. What it came down to was not necessarily where building managers or owners were going to spend money, but where they would expend time and attention to maintaining and improving their businesses.

Combing through hundreds of pages worth of energy efficiency strategies or attending workshops every week can be a daunting task, especially for managers who are constantly addressing the immediate needs of their tenants and owners. Add that to the large stream of solicitations from vendors, networking events, and industry events that fill up email inboxes and you have a recipe for inundation and inaction—this is a problem that the City’s new benchmarking ordinance will help.

Benchmarking Opens the Gates to Better Energy Management

Community-wide benchmarking and transparency gives people an access point to begin better energy management and education. It creates a shared language among building operators, tenants, brokers, owners, and managers to begin discussing and collaborating over energy efficiency rather than trying to dive into technical details right away. Managers and companies can also start comparing buildings within their own portfolios to industry leaders. For example, Salt Lake City’s local Zions Bank performed benchmarking on all of its facilities and found that the “benchmarking results were very enlightening and helpful, and showed that while some of [our] buildings perform very well, we have improvements to make in other buildings.” This helps direct management to focus their time and resources first to the lower-performing buildings. 

With better insight into building stock energy performance gained from benchmarking data, the City and local utilities can spend time identifying and reaching out to those in the real estate community who can benefit most from their service and incentives. We in Salt Lake City are not only committed to energy efficiency becoming a widespread common practice, but also to recognizing leaders of the industry to applaud their efforts and help show others what is possible in the region. Under our ordinance, buildings with scores 75 and above will automatically be entered into our Skyline Challenge and annual awards banquet highlighting professionals, individual buildings and portfolios, and energy efficiency projects across Utah’s Wasatch Valley.

Cities across the nation have seen consistent community-wide savings from these benchmarking ordinances, and Salt Lake City is excited to be part of this collective.


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Meet the Author

Wendy Lee

City Energy Project City Advisor, Salt Lake City

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