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The origins of the Building Energy Benchmarking Ordinance lie in Greenworks Philadelphia, a comprehensive and ambitious sustainability plan announced by the Mayor of Philadelphia in 2009 to make Philadelphia ‘the greenest city in America’ by 2015. The plan comprises 15 measurable targets and 164 initiatives encompassing five specific areas: energy, environment, equity, economy and engagement. Tackling commercial buildings was among the highest priorities, as approximately 62% of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Philadelphia come from the building sector, with 60% of total building energy consumed in commercial properties.

In support of these targets, the City launched a benchmarking1 and disclosure programme in 2012.

Philadelphia is the sixth city in the United States to legislate a benchmarking law after New York City, Washington DC, Seattle, San Francisco and Austin. Experiences from these cities, particularly with regard to programme design and potential implementation issues, served as important points of reference for officials in Philadelphia.

What is it?
Philadelphia’s Building Energy Benchmarking Ordinance comprises a series of measures to mandate benchmarking, reporting and public disclosure of energy and water efficiency for non-residential buildings.

How does it work?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)2 developed Portfolio Manager3, which serves as the standard reporting and data entry platform in Philadelphia and other U.S. cities implementing energy benchmarking programmes. Philadelphia’s benchmarking programme relies on self-reporting by building owners and does not require data verification by registered professionals. A data quality checker is used by the City to identify data problems, which, once located, must be corrected by building owners. Unlike in other cities, submissions that miss EUI information are considered incomplete.

A qualifying building can be either of the following:

  • Any commercial building with indoor floor space of 50,000 square feet (ft2) or more.

  • All commercial portions of any mixed-use building where a total of 50,000 ft2 or more of indoor floor space is devoted to any commercial use.

The buildings targeted by the ordinance represent approximately 20% of citywide energy use in the building sector. Eligible owners must obtain energy and water consumption data even where tenants are separately metered by a utility supplier. Owners must disclose the recent benchmarking data to prospective purchasers or tenants upon request. The ordinance also includes provisions to safeguard privacy regarding the sharing of utility data.

CO2 reduction
Results from 2012 indicate that 1,762 buildings (85.4% of total number of buildings) submitted benchmarking data, representing 253 million ft2 (86.6% of total square footage). This was inclusive of vacant and soon to be demolished buildings.

It is still too early to assess the carbon impact of the Building Energy Benchmarking Ordinance, as the programme only took effect in 2013. Furthermore, citywide GHG inventories are conducted on two-year cycles, with a delay of at least 12 months.

One anecdotal indicator of the benchmarking legislation’s success is the growing stakeholder awareness of the role that retrofitting has in boosting building energy efficiency and cutting energy expenditures for building owners. This includes organisations such as the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA). City officials predict that for the second compliance year, and especially after public disclosure of results in the summer of 2014, many consultants will start offering efficiency services to building owners with low energy performance.

Next steps
Although the current programme focuses on commercial buildings, there is a plan to extend the coverage to residential buildings. The City also intends to develop methods for tracking activities in the private retrofit market and to encourage the sharing of experiences between active service providers in the private sector.

Philadelphia’s programme provides a valuable example and source of inspiration for any cities looking to drive market transformation and transparency through energy data benchmarking and disclosure.

Further information
To find out more about Philadelphia’s Building Energy Benchmarking Ordinance, the programme’s success factors, challenges and lessons learned please refer to the report Urban Efficiency: A Global Survey of Building Energy Efficiency Policies in Cities launched by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and C40 in late 2014 and updated in May 2015.


1 Energy benchmarking enables building owners to track their properties’ energy consumption and assess it against like-for-like top performance.

2 Environmental Protection Agency or EPA is the federal U.S. agency responsible for protecting and improving human and environmental health.

3 Portfolio Manager is a free online tool provided by the U.S. EPA that enables building owners and managers to track and assess energy and water use across their entire portfolio of buildings.

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