Downtown Portland (photo by Brian Libby)
BY BRIAN LIBBY
In a ceremony last week at the Multnomah Athletic Club, Portland Mayor Sam Adams challenged a gathering of BOMA Oregon’s leading commercial building owners and managers (the organization represents over 30 million square feet of commercial real estate) to participate in the 2012 Kilowatt Crackdown, a two-year energy benchmarking competition for Portland metro-area commercial buildings.
As part of the City of Portland and Multnomah County’s ambitious goal to achieve 40 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050, Adams encouraged the group to join the the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance's BetterBricks (a sponsor of this site), the Portland Development Commission, the Energy Trust of Oregon and Clark County's Clark Public Utilities to lead the Portland-metro area in cutting energy use and costs.
“Portland’s large commercial buildings consume considerable amounts of energy, and many could use energy-efficiency upgrades,” said Adams. “We’ve assembled a great partnership to create a valuable opportunity for Portland’s building owners to save energy, save money, and improve their buildings.”
After Adams' invitation, three large office-building managers pledged their participation: Unico Properties (owner and manager of U.S. Bancorp Tower, among many others), Langley Investment Properties, and the 200 Market Building.
The Kilowatt Crackdown is a public/private partnership to benchmark energy efficiency in office buildings throughout the Portland region ensures voluntary disclosure of energy information from local office building participants. It is the successor to a competition first launched by BOMA Oregon in 2006. The new partnership and two-year competition expects to double participation to about 150 while expanding geographic reach throughout the metro area. Participating buildings will benchmark energy performance through the Energy Star Portfolio Manager Tool and seek to improve their performance over time.
"Prospective tenants demand efficient, environmentally-friendly buildings and are willing to pay for it," said Scott Andrews, chair of the Portland Development Commission. Andrews is also persident of commercial realtor Melvin Mark. "Benchmarking for improved performance keeps us competitive in the marketplace, and will help us deliver on our economic development goals to foster the next wave of innovation in sustainable building."
By working collaboratively to establish innovative green building practices, the City of Portland has agreed not to mandate Energy Star disclosure. Disclosure will remain voluntary.
To give context to the figure of 150 office buildings in the Portland metro area (including Clark County, Washington) targeted by the Kilowatt Crackdown, there are over 10,000 office buildings that are over 5,000 square feet, and 17,800 total (according to figures supplied by the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance). That means out of the total office buildings in the area that over 5,000 square feet, the Kilowatt Crackdown if it succeeds in signing up 150 participants would still only have benchmarking data for about 1.5 percent of local offices. But the competition has specifically targeted buildings over 40,000 square feet, of which there are less than 1,500 in the area. So rather than 1.5 percent of local offices, it’s arguably more like 10 percent.
How does this compare with other cities seeking to lead the way on sustainability? New York City recently began non-voluntary benchmarking effort that has acquired energy data from over 2,000 large commercial properties. But NYC is about 14 times bigger than Portland, so the Crackdown participant numbers are, when you scale it, not nearly as dwarfed by NYC's mandatory program as it might initially seem. But New York is also mandating benchmark data for municipal and residential buildings, and data currently exists for over 3,000 buildings.
Should Portland be mandating that its large office buildings provide energy data? Absolutely. But it's also a valid step to make it a voluntary process in the beginning, and it makes tremendous sense to partner with the industry before diving in to legally obligating them to participate. (The only troubling fact may be that PDC's chairman is also president of a commercial real estate company, Melvin Mark. It creates the potential for conflict of interest.)
“BOMA Oregon has worked with numerous legislators to successfully defeat mandatory reporting requirements on the city and state level. And, together, we believe the building industry can manage itself, without government imposing any additional regulations,” said Susan Steward, Executive Director of BOMA Oregon, by email. “Building owners benchmark for a number of reasons: first, it’s the right thing to do. Second, it saves money which will be passed down to building tenants. And, third, it’s a win-win for the City of Portland and for the commercial real estate industry.”
So, it's a win-win if everybody does it, but if you make everybody do it, it's wrong? Hmm.
That said, Portland's business community has long perpetuated the idea that the city and its government are not receptive to local business, so enacting voluntary benchmarking measures first is a way to show that the city is as adept with the carrot as it is with the stick. If the Kilowatt Crackdown were the final word on office-building performance benchmarking, it might seem to be affecting a small segment of the market. But instead, it's the beginning of something larger. Ultimately all office buildings, or at least all the large ones, will have to disclose their energy performance, and possibly that of other resources too. Creating real market transformation ahead of regulation is a worthwhile move that will more than pay for itself.