Congress has approved a narrowly focused measure that aims to encourage—but not require—commercial-building owners and tenants to improve their facilities’ energy efficiency.

Final congressional action on the bill came on April 21, when the House passed it under suspension of the chamber's rules.  The Senate approved the legislation on March 27. It next goes to the White House for President Obama’s expected signature.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), termed it “good for the economy and good for the environment.”

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who teamed with Portman in drafting the legislation, called the bill “a modest but significant victory over legislative gridlock.”

Portman and Shaheen, who have been working on energy-efficiency proposals for many months, want to go further than the newly approved bill.

Both said they intend to push for a more wide-ranging energy-efficiency measure, which they introduced in March. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has scheduled an April 30 hearing on that bill.

The House-passed bill establishes, as part of the established Energy Star effort, a voluntary “Tenant Star” program, in which owners and tenants of commercial real estate could be recognized with a designation for their use of “high–performance energy-efficiency measures” in designing and constructing leased spaces. That designation also could refer to individual offices within multi-tenant buildings.

The bill directs the Dept. of Energy to conduct a study, due within a year, on the feasibility of making major energy-efficiency improvements in commercial buildings and encouraging owners and tenants to carry out those upgrades.

Empire State Realty Trust Chairman President and CEO Anthony E. Malkin said in a statement, “Tenant Star will encourage office tenants to incorporate into the construction of their leased premises common-sense, cost-effective measures that yield excellent returns on investment over short payback periods.”

Malkin, who heads the Real Estate Roundtable’s sustainability policy advisory committee, added that the cuts in energy use “will afford savings in future capital outlays for energy generation and related infrastructure.”

Elizabeth Chu Richter, American Institute of Architects president, also praised the bill's passage. She said, "This piece of legislation demonstrates that good energy-efficiency policy can pass without being hampered by ulterior political motives."

Roger Platt, U.S. Green Building Council president, said in a statement, "[The bill] will help save energy and trim costs for tenants across the country."

Another provision exempts some electric-resistance water heaters from Dept. of Energy regulations that took effect on April 16.

The legislation also mandates that, with some exceptions, federally leased buildings that lack Energy Star designations disclose information about their energy use.

Story updated on April 23 with comment from U.S. Green Building Council