Benchmarking is the process of comparing inputs, processes, or outputs within or between organizations, often to motivate performance improvement. Benchmarking typically measures performance using an indicator per common unit (e.g., cost per unit produced), which allows for comparison over time, to others, or to an applicable standard.

When applied to building energy performance, benchmarking provides a measurement for how efficiently a building uses energy as compared to a baseline, which may be the same building over time; the performance of similar buildings; or modeled simulations of a building.  A number of benchmarking tools exist today that are used by commercial real estate stakeholders to measure building energy performance. Many of these tools are offered by private companies and nonprofit organizations, while some are administered by state and local governments or the federal government. Jurisdictions interested in developing benchmarking and disclosure policy are encouraged to work with local stakeholders to identify the benchmarking tool or multiple tools that best address policy needs.

Since 2007, seven U.S. state and local governments have adopted benchmarking and disclosure policies requiring the comparative measurement and disclosure of commercial building energy performance. More than 10 states and local governments are actively developing benchmarking and disclosure policies or considering legislative proposals. As jurisdictions seek the adoption of new policies, a patchwork of localized requirements is rapidly emerging.   In the absence of federal policy or guidance, this trend is likely to continue. This document is intended to guide policymakers in the design of a commercial benchmarking and disclosure policy and provide a standard policy foundation for jurisdictions. It presents sample policy language and provides discussion points on key provisions.

The document references the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager energy measurement and tracking tool, which is specified in many existing policies and widely used within the United States commercial real estate industry. It is available online at the EPA ENERGY STAR website at no cost.  This policy design is not fundamentally tied it to a single benchmarking or rating tool; the example policy language can still be used by replacing or appending references to Portfolio Manager with references to another tool of choice. As new tools and methods emerge, policymakers may wish to update their policies to use an approach that best fits their needs.

This document was developed by The Existing Commercial Buildings Working Group of the State and Local Energy EfficiencyAction Network (SEE Action).  SEE Action is a state- and local-led effort to achieve all cost-effective energy efficiency by 2020. Facilitated by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), SEE Action offers knowledge, resources, and technical assistance to state and local decision makers as they advance energy efficiency policies and programs in their jurisdictions.