Building Operating Management

How Building Performance Standards Are Addressing Climate Change



Cities and states will be regulating existing building emissions. How can facility managers prepare to comply?


By Dr. Sharon Jaye   Energy Efficiency

As many cities in the United States are setting ambitious net-zero carbon goals to address climate change, one of the biggest areas of greenhouse gas emissions they will have to tackle is existing buildings. In the United States, buildings account for about 40 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, but in individual cities, those percentages can be much higher. For example, in New York, buildings account for almost 70 percent of emissions, and in Washington D.C., it’s 75 percent. 

smog in new york city In New York, the performance standard is a carbon emissions limit set to begin in 2024. So buildings in New York should be examining their operations and needed retrofits to meet that limit by 2024, otherwise fines will be assessed.

The regulatory answer to address existing building emissions is building performance standards. By creating a standard to which existing buildings will need to perform, cities are requiring improvements and better efficiencies in the existing building stock. 

Three cities (Washington D.C., New York, and St. Louis) and Washington State have already passed legislation creating building performance standards. Several cities have focused on energy performance, requiring a minimum Energy Star Score or maximum site energy use intensity. Others are focusing on carbon emissions, capping the limit of allowed carbon emitted per building over time. 

An important aspect of these policies is continuous improvement; over time, the standards get increasingly more stringent, leading buildings towards net-zero carbon or energy performance. Facility managers should prepare for these policies by working now to improve energy efficiency in their buildings, which comes with the added benefit of improving the health and wellbeing of their occupants and saving money for their organizations.


In Washington D.C., the performance standard is focused on energy efficiency improvement, with the 2021 standard set at the local median Energy Star Score by property type. If the building does not meet the standard at the time it was set, it enters a five-year compliance cycle in which the building must reduce its site energy intensity by 20 percent. In Washington D.C., the standards will be recalculated every six years. 

In New York, the performance standard is a carbon emissions limit set to begin in 2024. So buildings in New York should be examining their operations and needed retrofits to meet that limit by 2024, otherwise fines will be assessed. New York’s emission limits will ratchet down every five years. 

These types of policies are becoming increasingly popular, and facility managers should be prepared to help their buildings comply. At least 20 other U.S. cities or counties are examining the concept of building performance standards and how to implement a policy in their jurisdiction.

Start with a benchmark

The best way to get up to speed on what’s happening in your area is to start following the activities of your city’s sustainability or energy office or get connected to your local Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) or International Facility Managers Association (IFMA) chapter. Many cities are employing robust stakeholder engagement processes to either design the policy or implement the compliance program, providing opportunities to weigh in and get involved.

In the meantime, facility managers can get their building ready for the future regulations. It pays to be ahead of the curve, both in meeting the set standards on time, but also to plan for how to meet more stringent standards down the road. 

Facility managers can plan for the future by setting up processes and procedures that embed improved energy performance into the culture and capital investment cycles of the organization. One important tool facility managers can leverage is strategic energy management (SEM). SEM is, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, “a set of processes that empower an organization to implement energy management actions and consistently achieve energy performance improvements. Strategic energy management allows for continuous energy performance improvement by providing the processes and systems needed to incorporate energy considerations and energy management into daily operations.”


An important part of SEM is to benchmark the energy performance and carbon emissions of a building. To implement a performance standard, cities usually institute benchmarking reporting requirements first, so if your city is not benchmarking now, they may be soon. Most cities use Energy Star Portfolio Manager for benchmarking and reporting requirements, so you can use this free tool now to start benchmarking and tracking improvements in your building’s performance. 

Once benchmarked, facility managers should check where their building would fall under Washington D.C.’s standards or New York’s carbon limits as a gut-check for how well the building is performing, and how much improvement might be required. Taking action to improve building performance, even if your city hasn’t set a standard yet, better positions the building up to meet future standards, while also saving the organization money and providing a healthier atmosphere for occupants now.

Facility managers can leverage an array of industry standards to find frameworks to improve their building. ISO 50001 is the global standard for energy management systems, providing facility managers with the framework to establish policies and procedures to track, analyze, and improve energy efficiency. While ISO and SEM frameworks provide the structure for action, the ANSI/ASHRAE/IES Standard 100-2018 details guidelines for energy-efficient operations and maintenance and methods for implementation and verification. ANSI/ASHRAE/IES Standard 211-2018 provides common scopes of work, consistent methodology, and minimum reporting requirements for energy audits in commercial buildings.

Invest in training

Because strategic energy management is an ongoing process requiring continuous improvement, often facilitated by building staff, facility managers should also take stock of the skills and experience of their operations and maintenance team and start investing in their knowledge and abilities. There are many great training, certification, and credential programs provided by industry associations and organizations. For example, IFMA’s Sustainability Facility Professional credential focuses on strategic management and operations oversight skills for facility managers. BOMA provides energy efficiency training through the Building Energy Efficiency Program. The Association of Energy Engineers (AEE) provides a Certified Energy Manager credential for individuals who optimize the energy performance of a facility, building, or plant. Building Operator Certification is a great way to invest in the personnel who are operating the HVAC, electrical, and lighting systems and making sure the building is compliant with codes and regulations.


For several parts of the SEM journey, such as energy audits or retrofit design, consultants or vendors with specific expertise in certain processes may need to be hired. In cities with building performance policies, local non-profit organizations have been created to provide support and training to help the industry improve performance. In New York, the Building Energy Exchange has been supporting local building owners for 10 years. Newly launched, the Building Innovation Hub in Washington D.C. is providing resources such as step-by-step guidance for using equitable high-road contracting principles to find qualified vendors. These organizations can also lead the facility manager to local resources on incentives, rebates, or financing.

Building performance standards are a regulatory method for cities to reduce their greenhouse gas emission impact by addressing the performance of existing buildings. Facility managers can take advantage of these policies to improve the energy efficiency of their building, improve the health and wellbeing of its occupants, and save money for the organization.

Dr. Sharon Jaye is a Climate Advisor for Buildings in the Bloomberg Philanthropies American Cities Climate Challenge with the Natural Resources Defense Council. For the past two years, she has been detailed to the District of Columbia’s Department of Energy and Environment to assist in the development of the building energy performance standards program. She has more than 15 years of sustainable facility management experience and holds a Sustainability Facility Professional credential from IFMA. She can be reached at sjaye@nrdc.org.




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  posted on 6/10/2021   Article Use Policy




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