Building Benchmarking Shows Where You’ve Been, Where You Can Be

By THOM BRAZEL, LEED AP | 08/09/2012

What is a benchmark?  According to dictionary.com, a benchmark is “a standard of excellence, achievement, etc., against which similar things must be measured or judged.”  Put simply, it is a measuring stick to see how well you’re doing. 

It is difficult to imagine any type of business that doesn’t utilize benchmarking to see how it is performing in different aspects of its business, relative to other similar businesses.  That which is measured gets improved upon.  After all…why do we keep score at sporting events?  Because we want to win – we want to finish with more points than the other team. 

The same goes for benchmarking in the energy services arena.  MSCA GreenSTARs work with costumers who are likely dealing with rising utility costs in their buildings.  The first reason we benchmark buildings for our customers is so we can get a feel for how their building is performing relative to similar buildings. By calculating the ENERGY STAR score (www.energystar.gov) or Energy Use Index (EUI) of a building, we can give building managers or owners an idea how their building is performing today and in the past.  Nice information to have…but not much can be gained from it on the surface.

The real value in benchmarking buildings is to give customers an idea where they can go in the future.  For example, let’s say a commercial office building is benchmarked and results in an ENERGY STAR score of 30.  A score of 30 means your building out-performs 29 out of 100 similar buildings, on average.  (Conversely, it means that 70 out of 100 buildings perform better than yours.)  Of course, more energy used equates to more dollars spent. 

Armed with this information, your HVACR service provider can now have a meaningful dialogue with you about your energy usage.  The company can now work with you to implement energy conservation measures (ECM’s), to raise your ENERGY STAR score to, let’s say, 50 (which would mean the building performance is average, compared to all similar buildings).  This increase in your building’s score can be directly converted to the reduction in dollars spent on energy use for your building.  Let’s assume in this case an increase in ENERGY STAR score from 30 to 50 would result in an annual savings of $20,000 per year for this building.  The next question from your HVACR service provider would be “How much would you be willing to spend on energy conservation measures if it would save you $20,000 per year energy cost $50,000?  $100,000?”  At this point, project implementation becomes a financial decision, depending on the circumstances of your building and business. 

Not satisfied with merely being average?  With the help of your HVACR service provider, you can apply for ENERGY STAR certification for your building, which requires a score of 75 or higher.  A higher score not only indicates less money is being spent on utilities but it also helps to illustrate that the building is more sustainable, and has less impact on the environment.  Commercial office buildings that can demonstrate lower utility costs and have less impact on the environment are becoming more and more desirable by potential tenants who wish to market the fact they are supporting a more sustainable planet.  That means a higher occupancy rate for building owners and/or managers. 
And without benchmarking, none of it would be possible.  You can’t truly determine how far you can go until you understand where you’ve been.        
Thom Brazel, LEED AP, is General Manager at Ruthrauff Service, Pittsburgh, PA.