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The City of Seattle aims to attain carbon neutrality by 2050, and plans to reduce both commercial building energy use by 10% and residential building energy use by 20% by 2030. To support these targets and its Climate Action Plan, the City adopted the Seattle Building Energy Benchmarking and Reporting Program in January 2010, directly drawing on the expertise of cities pursuing similar policies, such as New York City, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. In January 2014, the first comprehensive analysis report of data submitted in 2011 and 2012 was released, providing building owners and managers with the opportunity to gauge their building’s energy efficiency against similar buildings in the city for the first time.

What is it?
The Seattle Building Energy Benchmarking and Reporting Program is a regulation that requires all residential and commercial buildings of 20,000 square feet (sq2) or larger to track energy performance annually, report to the City and disclose this information upon request to current and prospective tenants, buyers or lenders.

How does it work?
The benchmarking programme was adopted in January 2010. Implementation of the law included a phase-in period beginning with large commercial buildings greater than 50,000 sq2, which were first required to report by April 2012. Multifamily buildings were required to report by October 2012, and for buildings greater than 20,000 sq2 (and less than 50,000 sq2) reporting was required in April 013. The programme is now in full implementation, covering approximately 3,250 properties and totalling more than 280 million ft2.

Building owners or managers collect building use details and actual energy use data for each individual building and report to the City by April 1 each year. Reporting is carried out through the ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager1 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency2 (EPA).

The City provides a free help desk to support owners with reporting performance data via telephone and email, in addition to weekly drop-in sessions and free training workshops. The City also uses third-party technical assistance to identify outlier data and contact building owners to correct inaccuracies.

CO2 reduction
So far, the City has noticed a remarkably high compliance rate: 89% for non-residential and 97% for multifamily buildings. Officials attribute this success to outreach and stakeholder engagement efforts including free information, training sessions and the help-desk support.

As energy savings usually require a number of years to manifest, there are difficulties with assessing the impact of the regulation at this early stage of implementation. However, there is anecdotal evidence of several buildings undertaking energy efficiency upgrades in response to the ordinance. As a further measure to drive retrofitting, the City is partnering with the publicly owned electric utility Seattle City Light. This utility is currently comparing benchmarking results with internal data and is using findings to improve and inform existing and future efficiency rebate programmes.

The Seattle benchmarking initiative has also reportedly been one of the key drivers behind the self-initiated Seattle 2030 District, a coalition of private downtown buildings that aims to attain carbon neutrality for new buildings and reduce energy usage from existing buildings by 50% by 2030.

Next steps
Annual reports of building energy performance are planned to help guide the City’s future policies and incentive programmes. The City is also allocating significant efforts to further educating tenants and owners about the value of benchmarking data.

Seattle’s Building Energy Benchmarking and Reporting Programme provides a good example of how cities can build on each other’s expertise to mandate reporting for building owners, managers and tenants in the commercial and residential building sector.

Further information
To find out more about Seattle’s programme and lessons learned from it 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 Portfolio Manager is the free online tool provided by the Environmental Protection Agency that enables building owners and managers to track and assess energy and water consumption across their entire portfolio of buildings, as well as rate their buildings against similar top performing buildings in the U.S.

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

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