Benchmarked: An energy case study from Tower Companies
Benchmarked, a new energy blog series, examines local businesses who have used EPA’s Portfolio Manager to track energy use.
The Tower Companies
Name and Title: Eugenia Gregorio, Director of Corporate Responsibility
How many buildings do you manage? 12+
What kinds of building uses are in your buildings? Multi-tenant commercial office, multi-family residential, retail shopping centers
When did your company begin benchmarking? 2006
Why did you begin benchmarking?
The Tower Companies started tracking building energy and water usage because we believe it’s not only our responsibility to measure and improve our environmental footprint, but it’s also an opportunity to ensure efficient operations, reduce operating costs, compare our performance against similar buildings, and attract like-minded clients. We consider building performance to be just another metric to measure success at both an asset and portfolio level, and as such, we have integrated it into all aspects of business operations. Many years after we started this effort, there is now an environment in the D.C. area and nationally for healthy competition among real estate owners and managers because they see a score, want to improve it, and even do better than their peers and the industry standard – this in turn saves them money too!
Who does your benchmarking in Portfolio Manager?
Since the start of our benchmarking efforts, we have had a role dedicated to company sustainability initiatives and this role manages the benchmarking data collection, reporting, and ENERGY STAR certifications. However, benchmarking is a big coordinated Tower Team effort across our organization and we’re extremely lucky to have strong support from our entire leadership team because it involves gathering building data from a number of team members in accounting, engineering, property management, leasing, and construction. We also work with a local energy consultant, Sustainable Building Partners (SBP), to help our team review, enter, and verify data in our Portfolio Manager Account.
How has benchmarking your energy use changed the way you manage your portfolio? What do you do now that you didn’t do before?
Benchmarking in Portfolio Manager has allowed our team to set annual targets and track progress based off an initial baseline that measures our energy performance. Further, benchmarking has allowed us to engage property managers and building engineers to get to know their buildings from another perspective and take credit for improving their building’s operations. We’ve also increased outreach to building clients (our building occupants) to help reach our goals by offering energy saving tips, updating lease agreements to include efficient lighting requirements, and organizing campaigns and green teams to improve their own spaces, which we don’t control 100%.
Have you done anything that drastically improved a building score? If yes, what?
The Tower Companies has committed to a variety of efforts over the past decade to improve energy efficiency and reduce our carbon footprint; our average ENERGY STAR score is now an 83. These efforts include equipment and lighting upgrades from high-efficiency gas boilers to LED retrofits, variable frequency drives (VFDs), and motion sensors. Thanks to Pepco’s incentive programs, we have been able to receive significant rebates that help yield payback periods between 1-5 years.
Most notably, in 2012, we launched a portfolio-wide program to track our energy in real-time with the help of another local company, AtSite. AtSite’s monitoring and analysis helps us implement no- to low-cost energy conservation measures such as adjusting controls and sequences of operation, Building Management System (BMS) upgrades, aligning system operations with lease hours, training engineers to do night audits and seasonal day walks, and quarterly in-person team meetings to brainstorm new ideas and track progress.
Tower is a DOE Better Building’s Challenge partner, which means we have committed to reducing energy usage for our portfolio by 20% by 2020. To-date, we have reached a 10% reduction and are well on our way to the big goal!
What building’s energy performance are you most proud of, and why?
If you asked Jim Lewis, our extraordinary VP of Engineering, he would smile ear to ear and say, “BOB” …and I would agree with him. BOB, or Blair Office Building, is a multi-tenant commercial office building located in downtown Silver Spring near the metro. Built in 1963, BOB does not have a Building Automation System, and over 3 years has gone from an ENERGY STAR score of 41 to 63! While we have a wide range of buildings with scores as high as 93, we’re very proud of the team’s progress and are looking at strategies to pursue ENERGY STAR Certification for BOB next year.
What advice would you give for anyone benchmarking for the first time?
For those collecting and reporting energy usage for the first time and especially for those who don’t have a dedicated sustainability or similar role, it’s crucial to make the process a team effort and engage all departments to divide and conquer the tasks involved. Don’t be overwhelmed if you have a lot of buildings to benchmark! Try piloting a building before rolling it across to the entire portfolio to find the most efficient process that works for your team and is based on your own available resources.