On the heels of being named a top city by USGBC for LEED certification, and fifth in the nation for policies and programs advancing energy efficiency, The City of Seattle upped the ante with the signing of a new building energy efficiency ordinance on March 7. Seattle is an established climate leader with its benchmarking and transparency ordinances, and the new ordinance prioritizes increased transparency to create high performing, operationally efficient buildings, and a low carbon-producing city.

“Buildings are the second largest source of climate pollution in Seattle and reducing their emissions is critical to meeting our city’s ambitious climate goals,” said Mayor Murray at the signing of the new ordinance.

Seattle continues to stay at the forefront of optimizing energy efficiency in buildings.

Building owners need to know how this is going to impact their building’s rating and comparison to their competitors. As tenants have more information available, that information will factor into their decisions.

What should building owners and operators do in response to this ordinance?

  1. First know your buildings’ ENERGY STAR score. This will be transparently reported on the City’s website.
  2. If your building is not positioned where you want it in your competitive set, complete an energy audit. For owners with more than one building, a good option to a traditional energy audit is ongoing commissioning. There are a number of economic cloud-based platforms available now like BuildPulse that can provide real time data on how your buildings are performing across multiple buildings agnostic of the building automation system installed at the building level. Ongoing commissioning is also a path to receiving an exemption from for the building tune-up requirement that is the second part of this new ordinance.
  3. Work with a preferred provider like Paladino to determine if an incentive program like PSE CBTU is applicable for your building. You can get up to 100% of the cost reimbursed through programs like this.
  4. Lastly, make sure you are framing the sustainability story of your building; share what you are doing to improve performance and how those changes will positively impact your tenants.

The original, weaker ordinance only required building owners to provide utility data upon request at the point of transaction, whether that was purchasing a building or leasing space. By then the purchaser is no longer “shopping” and has already committed to buying, so the information around energy efficiency of the building may impact negotiations, but doesn’t really influence the buying decision. Instead of relying on regulations such as utility caps with the threat of fines, building energy transparency will use the market to pressure building owners to improve building performance.

The new legislation addresses three areas:

  • Building energy transparency
  • Tune-ups
  • City leadership

To achieve improved building performance throughout Seattle, transparency will improve visibility and ease of comparison against peers. Now a prospective purchaser can readily access and compare data when shopping for space or a building. Energy and carbon information for all commercial buildings over 50,000 square feet in Seattle will be available online, giving purchasers/leasers information earlier in their process. Buyers/leasers are looking more closely at energy consumption than ever before – whether it’s because of its impact on their own sustainability reporting, or the simple desire to manage operation costs.

This ordinance is tied to the city’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) 2050 building energy targets:

  • 63% reduction for residential building energy use;
  • 45% reduction for commercial energy use;
  • 63% reduction for GHG intensity of building energy use.

The new transparency and building tune-up strategies are only part of the city’s approach. Additional strategies include smart metering, incentives programs for utilities, permitting and financing, and energy code updates. Additionally, the new Washington State Energy Code (WSEC) will go into effect in July, and will substantially impact new development projects.

Want more information about the ordinance?

Want help sorting out your next step? Drop me a line.


Dina Belon is the director of Paladino’s Seattle office. 

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