Benchmark the Way to an Energy Efficient Facility
Online tool offers a free guide to efficiency
For facility executives, the term “benchmarking” may conjure up images of nightmarish hours spent sifting through spreadsheets and data to fulfill another corporate fad. But in reality, benchmarking offers the clearest roadmap for making energy efficiency improvements.
“I think it’s critically important to benchmark,” says Kurt Padavano, COO of Advance Realty and past chairman of the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International. “If you’re going to be competitive in the commercial real estate industry, you need to know what the rest of the industry is doing.”
Benchmarking has meaning beyond commercial real estate, however. Facility executives who manage corporate space will be competing against other departments in their companies for funding when they present projects to the CFO. That means facility executives need to demonstrate that they are putting the money towards the project with the best return.
“If I have 70 buildings and I can’t benchmark the properties first and see where the opportunities are, it’s very difficult to know where to focus the capital and human resources,” says Padavano, whose company is responsible for 5 million square feet of space.
ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager is a free Web-based tool that allows facility executives to do just that. “I’ve not found anything that comes close to the resource that EPA has built into the ENERGY STAR Program,” says Padavano.
To use the tool, data such as facility size, energy use, occupancy and zip code are entered into the Portfolio Manager, which then produces a rating from 1 to 100. The rating shows how a building stacks up against similar buildings across the country, based on a national survey of buildings conducted by the Energy Information Administration. A score of 75 or better is required to earn the ENERGY STAR Label for Buildings.
“If you have all of the information that’s needed for benchmarking, the actual process can take less than 20 minutes,” says Anna Stark, program manager, ENERGY STAR Commercial Properties. “The challenge can be gathering the energy information, if you don’t have it readily available.”
Using the Tool
There are several ways to ease data collection. To begin, companies using energy service providers that partner with ENERGY STAR may be able to have the provider transfer the information directly to ENERGY STAR, Stark says. Facility executives who have large portfolios can use the “master account” feature to allow local staff to enter and update individual building information so facility executives can see results across the portfolio at a glance.
All of this makes it easier for facility executives to generate their ENERGY STAR ratings. But that number is really just the beginning. “The focus shouldn’t just be on getting a label,” says Stark. “We see a lot of partners who get frustrated with low rating. But these buildings have the best opportunities for energy savings and greenhouse gas reductions.”
Savvy facility executives use the rating as a tool to make continuous improvement. “If you get a 60, set targets to find out how you can improve your energy performance,” Stark says.
Operating strategies can have a big impact on a building’s score. “We’ve seen buildings that have improved their score by 10 or 20 points by operating strategies alone, if not more,” she says. In a portfolio, ENERGY STAR offers value because it shows where the best performing buildings are.
“The tool can let you see how a building team is doing,” Padavano says. “If their trend is better, it provides a place to look for a best practice and move that information to other buildings in the portfolio.”
Once operational improvements are made (and verified by watching monthly or quarterly ENERGY STAR scores), it makes sense to work on low-cost equipment upgrades first, followed by larger upgrades, Stark says. For example, replacing the lighting with a more efficient system could reduce a building’s heat load. That could allow a smaller, more efficient chiller to be used when it’s time for replacement.
The starting score provides an indication of how easy it will be to improve efficiency. Buildings with scores under 50 will respond well just to operational changes. Scores between 50 and 74 suggest buildings may require equipment upgrades as well as operational improvements. Buildings with scores over 75 will also respond to changes in operations, but the effort may entail equipment upgrades with longer paybacks.
Don’t Get Technical with the CFO
To gain support for efficiency upgrades, present projects in terms the CFO understands. When presented in the language of money, costly upgrades are less likely to be viewed as unnecessary expenses.
Focus on predictable financial outcomes of the project. Calculate the energy savings in dollars, not Btus or gallons. Use common financial tools to present the case, such as ROI, net present value and asset appreciation evaluations. As energy and water prices climb, a CFO will appreciate the time spent in presenting the estimated financial gains in easily understandable terms.