Benchmarking: Establishing goals

“If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.” Lord Kelvin, 1824–1907

As with any endeavor in life, to improve, you must have a starting point of reference against which you can measure your results. Benchmarking is a process of accounting for and comparing a building’s current energy performance with its energy baseline, or comparing energy performance with the performance of similar types of buildings. Benchmarking is an integral component of a comprehensive energy management plan.

Managers responsible for the operation and maintenance of facilities should develop a benchmarking plan, which may include establishing goals for benchmarking, building a benchmarking team, identifying metrics (inputs and outputs) to be tracked, selecting a benchmarking tool, defining methods for collecting the data and establishing processes for data verification and analysis.

Many facility managers utilize energy use intensity, which is energy consumed per square foot, when choosing the baseline. They can then “normalize” the data for inputs that can affect energy use (weather, occupancy schedule, etc.). Normalizing creates a level playing field for comparison.

A widely used benchmarking system is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager, a free software tool. Users input basic building parameters (including energy data), and the information is normalized to weather conditions and run through an algorithm that compares the building to others with similar operating characteristics from a database.

Once a baseline is established and targets are set, facility managers can use several methods to help reduce energy consumption, including energy audits, retro-commissioning and mechanical and electrical system upgrades.

Demand for benchmarking is growing, driven by factors including utility costs, requirements to improve financial performance, corporate commitments to decrease environmental impacts and mandates requiring benchmarking and public disclosure of energy performance. Some of these ordinances or legislation are coupled with a plan of action to reduce energy consumption. New York City and San Francisco include energy audits or retro-commissioning as required efforts on a scheduled cycle.

As energy and sustainability codes evolve, along with ordinances and legislation requiring specified levels of performance, owners and facility managers will be looking to new tools and software to assist them in benchmarking and tracking energy performance.

For additional information regarding benchmarking or assistance in developing a benchmarking plan, please contact or

Posted on March 13, 2015