Energy Star boosts engineering business

EPA’s Energy Star program is the primary resource for property owners and operators seeking to reduce costs and demonstrate environmental stewardship through strategic energy management.

By Robert Sauchelli, U.S. EPA; and Andrew Schulte, ICF International January 25, 2011

In recent years a number of converging trends, including rising energy costs, increasing concerns over climate change, and the potential for national greenhouse gas regulation, have led to a heightened awareness of energy performance across the commercial building sector. In particular, there has been a renewal of interest in energy-efficient operations as a core strategy for controlling energy costs, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and demonstrating the “green” credentials that the public seeks in buildings where they live, work, shop, and play.

For over a decade, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program has been a leading resource for commercial building owners and managers seeking to improve the energy performance of their facilities. Equally important, however, Energy Star tools and resources can be leveraged by the broad array of trade allies and service providers, including consulting engineers, who offer energy efficiency services in the commercial building sector. In this article, we will discuss some of these key resources, as well as opportunities for service and product providers (SPPs) to build their energy efficiency business with the help of Energy Star.

Energy Star overview

Energy Star is a voluntary, federal government-backed partnership program that helps business and individuals to protect the environment and save money through improved energy efficiency. In the commercial building sector, businesses that partner with EPA can draw upon a number of core tools, resources, and guidance documents for improving energy efficiency, all while leveraging Energy Star’s established brand value and proven framework for communicating and promoting the environmental and financial benefits of energy performance. Two elements in particular stand at the center of EPA’s offerings for commercial buildings: the Guidelines for Energy Management and the Energy Star benchmarking tool, Portfolio Manager.

EPA has worked with commercial property owners and operators to identify the common best practices used by leading building owners and managers to design and implement successful energy management programs. By distilling this information into a set of strategic guidelines, EPA has created a road map to help organizations kick-start their energy management activities—or to compare their existing programs with industry best practices.

At the heart of the Energy Star Guidelines for Energy Management is the notion of continuous improvement. As depicted in Figure 1, the process of energy management is not a linear path with a clearly defined end. Rather, successful energy management requires continual assessment to help inform any necessary changes in strategy and to recognize achievements. In this way, the Guidelines provide the conceptual foundation for Energy Star in the commercial building marketplace, along with specific tools that can support each step.

Portfolio Manager and benchmarking

At almost every step in the Guidelines, there is a need for performance measurement and assessment. In the past, however, the commercial property market lacked the ability to differentiate higher performing buildings from lower performing buildings. Unlike the miles/gallon rating for automobiles, which makes it possible to objectively compare the efficiency of one car with another, there was no similar metric for buildings. In the absence of a simple means of comparative assessment, it was difficult to promote improvements in whole building energy efficiency, let alone to recognize the achievements of industry leaders.

In response to this challenge, EPA developed a rating system based on national commercial building energy consumption data collected by the Energy Information Administration. By using this tool, eligible properties can measure their energy performance compared to similar buildings nationwide, taking into account differences in climate, building size, and operational attributes to deliver a 1 to 100 rating that can be easily understood and communicated. This rating system is viewed by industry to be objective and backed by a credible third party (the U.S. government), and has become, in essence, the “whole building miles/gallon rating.”

Furthermore, this rating is the mechanism through which Energy Star recognizes superior performance. For example, properties that earn ratings of 75 or higher, signifying energy performance in the top quartile nationwide, can earn the prestigious Energy Star Label. Similarly, portfolios of properties that achieve improvements of 10% or more over their energy performance baseline are eligible for recognition as Energy Star Leaders.

To support the rating system, EPA developed Portfolio Manager, a Web-based interface that property owners and operators can use to access the energy performance scale, store information regarding their buildings, and apply for recognition. Portfolio Manager enables users to benchmark individual properties using the 1 to 100 rating scale, and also allows them to measure and track the energy performance of entire portfolios of owned and/or managed properties. In fact, leading commercial building organizations are realizing that benchmarking entire portfolios allows them to conduct a critical process of “triage”—i.e., identifying underperforming facilities and directing upgrade resources to these properties to drive the maximum energy savings for the money spent.

As a companion to Portfolio Manager, EPA also developed Target Finder, which allows developers to rate the predicted energy performance of buildings still in the design stage. In fact, to promote the importance of energy efficiency in building design, projects that prospectively score 75 or higher in Target Finder can be recognized as Designed to Earn the Energy Star, indicating that they have the opportunity to be top energy performers upon build-out.

Since the release of this tool a decade ago, Portfolio Manager has undergone regular updates to enhance functionality, including the integration of water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions tracking. To date, more than 160,000commercial buildings have benchmarked their energy performance using Portfolio Manager. This activity has been divided between end users that are benchmarking their own properties and service providers that are benchmarking buildings on behalf of clients. To become an Energy Star SPP partner, organizations must have used Portfolio Manager to benchmark 10 or more client properties in the past 12 months, and/or must have served as the primary service provider for a client that has earned the Energy Star Label in the past 12 months. Likely to drive this trend even further, a number of states and cities, including California, the District of Columbia, New York City, and Seattle, have passed legislation mandating that commercial buildings track their energy performance using Portfolio Manager and disclose ratings to the public. The Energy Star rating is also used as a prerequisite for certification under the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED certification for existing buildings (LEED-EB).


In the same way that the Guidelines for Energy Management and Portfolio Manager serve to define the Energy Star program for commercial buildings, so too can these resources assist energy efficiency service providers in structuring and delivering energy solutions to their commercial clients. In Table 1, we compare a typical sales cycle for service and product providers against the Energy Star Guidelines. Not only do these two frameworks align quite naturally, but especially with the numerous tools and resources available through Energy Star, there are a number of direct opportunities for service providers to help their clients progress through the Energy Star Guidelines and achieve energy management success.

Even among Energy Star partners, not all end users will choose to engage a service provider as part of their energy management strategy. However, for those that decide to look outside of their immediate organization for expert assistance, they will likely be drawn to vendors that are visible, credible, and have a demonstrated history of helping clients to achieve improved energy performance.

By becoming Energy Star service and product provider partners, companies can gain access to targeted marketing materials and can leverage the widespread recognition of the Energy Star brand. Furthermore, because Energy Star is a government-backed program with robust partnership criteria, a commercial property owner/operator that engages the services of an Energy Star SPP can feel comfortable that this service provider understands the Energy Star Guidelines and is aligned with the goal of continuous energy improvement.

Finally, as an Energy Star SPP partner, service providers can get listed in the “most active SPP” directory, which is prominently displayed across the Energy Star Web site for end users seeking “expert help.”

The demand for energy efficiency services in the commercial buildings market has increased dramatically in recent years, and will only continue to rise in light of regulatory drivers and growing interest in “green” buildings. As the most widely recognized platform for whole-building energy performance, EPA’s Energy Star program is the primary resource for property owners and operators seeking to reduce costs and demonstrate environmental stewardship through strategic energy management.

By the same token, Energy Star tools, resources, and strategies can be leveraged by trade allies that are delivering energy efficiency services to the commercial property markets. In this manner, partnership with Energy Star can provide the visibility, credibility, and additional technical resources to help service providers to build their business. For more information on the Energy Star Service and Product Provider program, including information on partnership, visit

Also read: Energy Star frequently asked questions

– Sauchelli is the national program manager for U.S. EPA’s Energy Star commercial buildings partnership for service and product providers. Schulte is a senior associate at ICF International, where he works in support of EPA’s Energy Star program in the commercial buildings sector.

Benefits to engineers using Energy Star resources

  • Portfolio Manager allows engineers to benchmark client buildings and compare energy performance against similar buildings using an easy-to-understand metric
  • Tracking energy performance in Portfolio Manager can provide third-party verification of improvements resulting from the implementation of an engineer’s recommendation.
  • Using the Energy Star Guidelines for Energy Management can help engineers to prepare and implement comprehensive energy management plans for clients, which can lead to additional business opportunities.
  • Professional engineers can help their clients receive recognition for superior energy performance. This achievement is recognized in the form of a bronze plaque bearing the Energy Star logo, which is recognized by 75% of the American public.