A building at twilight Minnesota cities are collaborating on standards and tools for measuring and tracking energy consumption in buildings to increase energy efficiency, lower costs, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Efficient Buildings Collaborative, an initiative of Hennepin County (GPI is a partner), is a new program to standardize policies for building energy benchmarking in Minnesota cities and develop a shared platform for cities to use.

Here are a few key takeaways about energy benchmarking and the Minnesota program:

  • Building energy benchmarking allows building managers to measure and track energy consumption to compare consumption over time and against similar types of buildings and uses.  
  • A benchmarking policy is a tool cities can use to impact private sector energy consumption. 
  • Commercial building energy efficiency is key to meeting climategoals. 
  • The Efficient Buildings Collaborative is an opportunity for cities in Minnesota to develop standard policies and share a benchmarking platform. 

Opportunity to standardize building benchmarking in Minnesota

The Efficient Buildings Collaborative is an initiative developed by Hennepin County in Minnesota. This program seeks to standardize building benchmarking policies across the state and create a platform that cities can use rather than each developing their own.

Through the collaborative, the Great Plains Institute, in partnership with Center for Energy and Environment, designed a cohort model to engage and inform city staff on the benefits and process of adopting a building benchmarking policy. Piloted with Edina and St. Louis Park, two Minneapolis suburbs, we designed a model that coordinates the policy development process and stakeholder engagement for quicker and smoother adoption.

A new cohort begins this spring, which includes three workshops to learn about policy development, engagement, and program operation for building benchmarking. Additional technical assistance will be available to those cities that decide to move forward with a policy.

Trends and current changes in US energy use in buildings

Overall energy use in the US has dropped since the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders were issued. In New York, for example, the state’s grid operator reported a 12 percent decrease in electricity demand at the end of March. Similar trends emerged in other parts of the country as stay-at-home orders expanded.

While these trends are revealed at the electric grid level, it’s difficult to know the local impact or to predict what will happen when more people are able to return to work. It’s possible to imagine a significant transformation in our relationships with buildings post COVID-19. Home offices and co-working spaces may become more common alternatives to commercial office spaces, impacting travel patterns, energy demand, and greenhouse gas emissions. With building energy benchmarking, cities can track building energy usage and greenhouse gas impacts, which better equips them to increase efficiency, save energy and money, and reduce emissions over time.

Energy consumption from the operation of commercial and residential buildings is responsible for nearly 29 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States. Yet many cities often face barriers to implementing the policies that would significantly impact building energy performance and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For example, all cities have the ability to encourage and incentivize energy improvements, but many are limited by state building standards to require them.

A building energy benchmarking and transparency policy is an increasingly popular strategy to meet local energy and climate goals since all cities have the authority to implement such a policy.

Building energy benchmarking & transparency on energy use and consumption

Building energy benchmarking allows building managers to measure and track energy performance to compare consumption over time and against similar types of buildings and uses. Many programs and software are available to manage building energy tracking.

The most common program is ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, which is offered free of charge from the US Environmental Protection Agency. Building performance is compared to other similar buildings nationwide using the 1-100 ENERGY STAR score. Buildings that score 50 represent the median score, while a score of 75 or higher represents the top performing buildings.

Transparency requires building owners to disclose building energy consumption and performance measures. This is typically shared with the local entity and often made available to the public via maps and reports (see the Efficient Buildings Collaborative Map as an example in Minnesota). Disclosing this information helps building managers see how their building performs against similar buildings and allows potential tenants to know the relative efficiency of different spaces.

Building benchmarking and transparency policies in the US

More than 30 cities across the country have passed building benchmarking and transparency policies. In all cases, public and private buildings are required to benchmark and disclose energy uses; some of these policies include multifamily buildings as well. Fewer cities include building performance requirements as part of their policies. The ability to enact performance requirements is limited to those cities that have the authority to do so, however, performance requirements have demonstrated the greatest impact on reducing energy use.


Emerging data from existing programs show that benchmarking on its own may decrease energy consumption, but more research is needed. For example, Minneapolis was one of the first cities in Minnesota to implement energy benchmarking in large commercial buildings, where energy intensity decreased by 5.5 percent in 2015-2018. In addition, a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory report evaluating programs across the country found in most studies they reviewed a 3 to 8 percent decrease in “gross energy consumption or energy use intensity over a two- to four-year period” after an energy benchmarking and transparency policy was implemented.

Engaging Minnesota cities through the Efficient Buildings Collaborative

Building energy benchmarking and transparency policies can play an important role as cities look to increase efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions as part of energy and climate planning. Cities in Minnesota have an opportunity to engage with the Efficient Buildings Collaborative to learn from their peers, access technical assistance, and use a shared platform. Coordination on policy development can help Minnesota cities create a standard process that benefits local government, businesses, and residents alike.

Interested in learning more about the Efficient Buildings Collaborative or other climate planning and other services? Contact Abby Finis at [email protected]. 

You can also learn more about the services we provide on our Consulting and Services web page.

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