The Pacific Northwest and the city of Seattle have been been at the forefront of the sustainability movement since its inception. Instead of resting on its lush laurels, Seattle has set two new lofty goals. One is attaining carbon neutrality by 2050 for its own buildings and another is benchmarking all buildings in the city that are 20,000 square feet or more. Pretty ambitious!

Centralizing Efficiency

The first steps to achieving these goals are outlined in Seattle’s Resource Conservation Management Plan (RCMP) that was launched late 2013. The RCMP describes the actions necessary to achieve a 20% energy efficiency goal by 2020 for existing city-owned buildings, and provides a comprehensive strategy to guide energy efficiency and resource conservation investments across 650 properties.

The four components of the city’s plan are:

  • Organizational Capacity—coordinated citywide effort across all departments simultaneously
  • Measurement and Tracking—continuous monitoring of energy consumption
  • Operations and Maintenance—ensuring buildings are performing optimally
  • Capital Investment—implementing energy efficient measures to meet the goal

The Pitfalls of a Diverse Portfolio

Seattle is going beyond minimum ordinance requirements and stepping up as a role model for other municipalities. We’re happy to see this for many reasons. One is that Seattle is shedding light on the typical pitfalls of managing a diverse portfolio. The city is coping with an aging building stock, with less than 5% of their properties constructed after 2000. It’s asking a lot of staff to know how to manage buildings constructed over an entire century and report consistently on all the various installed systems.



City-owned building stock consists primarily of buildings built prior to the launch of City green building standards. (Graphic from City of Seattle Resource Conservation Management Plan, June 2013. Provided courtesy of the City of Seattle)


Cross Functional Teams Get to Green

Another key aspect of the RCMP is the establishment of an interdepartmental team to evaluate system strategies while identifying and developing recommendations for engaging occupants who play a key role in the built environment. So often in the quest for water and energy efficiency the focus is on mechanical systems, benchmarking dashboards and aerators — while end users are left out of the equation.

Walking the Talk

The second lofty goal is The Seattle Building Energy Benchmarking and Reporting Program, which requires building owners to  benchmark and report the prior year’s energy use of non-residential and multifamily buildings 20,000 square feet or larger annually by April 1st. Leading by example, the city has also taken it upon itself to benchmark 94 of its municipal buildings and share the findings in the Seattle Municipal Buildings 2011-2012 Energy Performance Report, published in May of 2013.

First enacted into law in 2010, the ordinance was updated in 2012 with the intention of creating a dialogue within the real estate community on sustainable practices and increase energy efficiency. It also encourages tenants, buyers and lenders to request building energy data from owners when making investment decisions. The 2011/2012 Seattle Building Benchmarking Analysis Report was released in January, along with this infographic showing the incredible opportunity for energy savings in the area.



City of Seattle Energy Benchmarking and Reporting Program
City of Seattle Energy Benchmarking and Reporting Program


Compliance and Beyond

Clients frequently ask us what they need to do to be in compliance with green ordinances around the country. Our answer is always that compliance is the bare minimum and you can almost guarantee the rules will be changing shortly; to differentiate yourself in a sea of choices requires going beyond the minimum threshold. Be the one that sets the new bar. That’s what Seattle has done.

Seattle is one of only nine cities in the country with a benchmarking law on the books and it is the most successful in reporting of any city. Last year, more than 95% of required buildings reported 2012 energy performance. These buildings must have energy consumption and occupancy details updated to be compliant with reporting 2013 energy performance (due April 1, 2014).

Seattle’s commitment to collaboration and communication is the impetus for this outstanding compliance rate. The city’s policy was phased in over three years to ensure that goals were realistic for the community. Seattle conducted a comprehensive outreach and communications program to educate building owners and operators, and provided technical support and instructions for benchmarking in EPA’s ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, a free tool for tracking energy and water usage.

City officials also recognize that many office and multifamily buildings are sold every three to five years, so a commitment to ongoing communication will help inform new owners and management on the requirements to ensure continued success.

Data—How, Who and What Now?

With the publication of Seattle’s benchmark report, building owners can compare their building’s Energy Use Intensity of other similar buildings in Seattle on the benchmarking website. The ability to compare building portfolios is very valuable, because it allows owners to understand relative performance compared to their peers.

The International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) identified a need in their specialized market for a tool that landlords could use to compare themselves to like shopping center types, and launched their own industry-specific benchmarking program called the ICSC Property Efficiency Scorecard. While ICSC is focusing on a singular building type (retail) across the globe, Seattle is addressing multiple building types (retail/office/multifamily/etc.) in one city.

Both approaches encourage owners to evaluate their entire portfolio to make informed decisions. The chart below shows the breakdown of building types in Seattle’s program and their representative square footages.



Percentage of buildings and types
Percentage of Buildings and Square Footage by Building Type in Seattle’s Benchmarking Analysis
(Graphic from 2011/2012 Seattle Building Energy Benchmarking Analysis Report, January 2014. Provided courtesy of the City of Seattle)

Now that we know how these numbers are being reported and who’s reporting them, the question remains: what do we do with all this information? I liked this quote from in the report from Stephan Chandler, Facility Manger at Verity Credit Union: “Energy bills only tell you so much. Benchmarking lets you see trends and how your building compares with others.”

Seattle is building a strong foundation for building management to identify areas for improvement, be recognized as a high performing building with an ENERGY STAR rating, and share best practices with the community.

The benchmarking report also identifies the huge potential for buildings to be ENERGY STAR certified. Only buildings performing at the top 25% in the country are eligible. To date, 41% of Seattle’s buildings are ENERGY STAR qualified but not yet certified. Where’s the disconnect?

To achieve full certification, a registered architect or professional engineer verifies a building’s data. There are many qualified entities in the city to ensure we’re capitalizing on a sleeping asset – now owners need to understand the value of sharing their accomplishment with the market. If and when all these buildings are certified, Seattle could easily be the number one city in America for ENERGY STAR.

In our next post on lofty local goals, we will expand our sustainability lens beyond Seattle to King County. 

Melony PedersonRetailers sustainability RILA

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