A report from a non-profit think tank highlights some of the barriers several cities and states have experienced in implementing new building-energy benchmarking and disclosure policies, as well as some suggestions for ways to overcome those barriers.

Within the past five years, five cities and two states have adopted policies that require owners of large, commercial buildings to measure their properties' energy consumption and make the data publicly available. The jurisdictions are in New York City, Washington, D.C., Seattle, Austin, Texas, San Francisco and the states of California and Washington.

Although the policies are on the books, some of the jurisdictions have delayed implementing them due to initial challenges, such as the inability of some building owners to access utility bills of individual tenants, says the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT), a Washington, D.C., non-profit dedicated to promoting energy efficiency, in its report released on July 29. Further, many cities lack a complete inventory of building stock.  

Many of the jurisdictions are starting to phase in the requirements this year. The requirements will affect some four billion square feet of building space, nearly three times the space currently measured under the Leadership for Energy and Environmental Design rating system, according to the IMT report.

The report provides a road map to help jurisdictions overcome common challenges to implementing the policies. It is based on discussions from a November 2010 meeting in which policymakers from each of the jurisdictions and energy-efficiency specialists met to discuss challenges and best practices in implementing commercial rating and disclosure policies.

The report concludes that best practices are emerging that can help policy implementers overcome barriers and implement effective rating and disclosure policies.

Andrew Burr, director of IMT's Building Energy Rating program and the lead author of the report, says, "As these policies continue to draw interest from states and cities across the country, we can enable policymakers to build on the lessons and best practices from early adopters."

Jason Hartke, vice president of national policy for the U.S. Green Building Council, says the report will serve as a valuable, "solutions-oriented" guide for jurisdictions that are considering implementing similar policies. "It clearly articulates the complexity of implementing disclosure policies," he says. "There are some serious issues as they relate to understanding energy use in a building."

Hartke says it is important that jurisdictions work to promote consistency and interoperability across city and state lines to avoid “a patchwork” of different policies around the country.

Burr notes that the proliferation of commercial-building rating and disclosure policies around the country will not only provide the framework for more efficient buildings but also create jobs. "For a lot of businesses, benchmarking is a gateway into retrofits and other energy-efficiency services."

One such company is West Haven, Conn.-based Light Quotient, which provides energy-efficient lighting for commercial and other buildings. David Pfund, president of the firm's ambient-lighting division, says the benchmarking laws provide an opportunity for firms like his to get a leg up on the future. "We can longer rely on traditional design practices and design systems to get us where we want to go," he says.