Building Performance Standards: A 'Paradigm Shift' for Facilities

A growing number of state and local governments have enacted BPS to force building owners to improve their facilities’ energy efficiency and cut GHG emissions.   November 10, 2023

By Dan Hounsell, Senior Editor

For decades, states and cities have taken steps to encourage institutional and commercial facilities to operate more energy efficiently. The efforts started with benchmarking and disclosure laws on energy use, and they transitioned to requirements for building energy audits and retrocommissioning. But as the impact of climate change and the acknowledgement of the role of buildings in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions has grown, governments have come to realize they must do more. 

Enter building performance standards (BPS). In recent years, a growing number of state and local governments have enacted BPS to force building owners to improve their facilities’ energy efficiency and cut GHG emissions. Among the jurisdictions that have enacted BPS in recent years are Colorado, Maryland and Washington state, along with such cities as Denver, St. Louis and New York City 

A BPS policy is a set of standards designed to reduce carbon emissions of buildings by improving energy, gas and water use, and peak demand. These standards’ requirements become stricter over time and are designed to drive continuous, long-term improvement. Attendees at a session on BPS at World Workplace 2023 in Denver in September learned insights from two presenters: Brendan Hall, an environmental policy analyst, with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); and Sharon Jaye, office of climate action for the city of Denver, which recently adopted a BPS. 

They noted that a BPS differs from previous energy-conservation efforts in several key respects. It features long-term policies designed to drive energy and carbon reductions through reduction targets that must be met at specified deadlines. It shifts building owners to a continuous operational improvement cycle, it typically balances immediate action and compliance flexibility, and failure to comply can result in enforcement of financial penalties. 

Jaye said Denver’s BPS aims to force existing to achieve net zero by 2040 and new buildings by 2030. Jaye says the BPS’s penalties for noncompliance are higher than the cost of upgrade projects because “we know facility managers have to talk building owners into investing the money for these projects.” 

She also pointed out the likely benefits of the BPS for building owners and occupants. 

“As the buildings improve their energy use and lower the cost of operations, Denver will become a more competitive, attractive city for businesses and residents,” she says. In addition, the return on investment will improve for building owners, the city’s overall building stock will improve, property values will rise, energy bills and operating costs will drop, and indoor and outdoor air quality will improve. 

For managers looking for ways to understand their building’s energy performance and compare it with similar facilities in order to comply with a BPS, Hall pointed to the recent release of the Data Explorer tool as part of EPA’s Portfolio Manager. The tool provides access to energy use data from over 150,000 U.S. commercial and multifamily properties, and it allows managers to explore energy use intensity, Energy Star score and percent electricity across a range of property types.  

Hall and Jaye advised managers facing the requirements of a BPS to take several key steps: 

  • Understand a building’s interim and final performance targets. 
  • Know the allowable compliance measures in the jurisdiction. 
  • Doublecheck that energy-use benchmarking to create a baseline has been done correctly. For example, make sure a building’s energy-intensive users have been accounted for. 
  • Identify a facility’s operational and capital improvements, and check with utilities that offer low-cost or free energy audits to help achieve this goal. 
  • Take advantage of compliance support offered by state and local governments, lenders, utilities. 
  • Create a retrofit plan to reach targets. 

Jaye emphasized it is critical that facility managers understand just how much the rise of BPS will affect the way they oversee and upgrade buildings in order to comply. 

“For FMs, this is a paradigm shift,” she says. “It’s an opportunity to finally get your projects done, or at least not get your budget cut.” 

Dan Hounsell is senior editor for the facilities market. He has more than 30 years of experience writing about facilities maintenance, engineering and management. 


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