Commercial and Public Building Energy Efficiency

Energy expenditures in privately-owned commercial and public buildings average more than $2 per square foot, making energy use a cost worth managing.[1]  Policies that improve the way buildings use energy throughout the building lifecycle, from construction through operation and renovation, are a priority in communities across the country.

Photo of a commercial building

Key Focus Areas

Improving energy efficiency in commercial buildings requires a multi-pronged approach that addresses a variety of market needs.  To promote solutions for whole-building improvements, SEE Action has identified four key focus areas in commercial and public building efficiency:

  • Increase demand for energy efficiency. Improve information through building benchmarking, identify retro-commissioning and retrofit opportunities, facilitate ratepayer-funded programs that address whole-building energy savings, and increase use of public-private partnerships. 
  • Support data access to drive decision making. Fill potential gaps between benchmarking tools and accessing the utility data necessary to use those benchmarking tools through regulatory policy.
  • Enable efficient operations and investment. Adopt comprehensive energy management programs, integrate energy efficiency in leasing practices, and increase the use of successful financing mechanisms.
  • Move the market. Implement procurement reform and showcase emerging technologies through public-private partnerships.  

Key Initiatives

SEE Action provides technical and policy decision making information to state and local governments and utility regulators on organization-wide, performance-based policy and program strategies for energy efficiency in public and private commercial buildings.  These include:

  • Educating policymakers on existing and new policy tools that are informed by and directly tied to actual energy performance - including outcome-based, lifecycle-oriented policies; performance incentives; property valuation and appraisal policies; and utility policy and partnerships. 
  • Providing policy design guidance on benchmarking and disclosure. Benchmarking is a market-based policy tool which requires the building owner, operator, or manager to measure the building’s energy performance, similar to a fuel economy rating on a vehicle. This information is then used to identify cost-effective opportunities for improvements, and is also made available to the marketplace through a direct disclosure to stakeholders (such as a tenant or a prospective lessee, investor, or lender) or by publication on a publicly accessible web site. This approach helps create a market for efficiency by making building energy performance transparent.
  • Providing policy design guidance on energy audits and retro-commissioning. Audits identify a range of opportunities for energy improvement in a building (e.g., operational improvements, simple retrofits and capital improvements) but do not guarantee implementation. Retro-commissioning includes the implementation of the necessary “re-tuning” measures.
  • Educating regulators on policy tools to enable commercial and public building owners and operators to access utility data in order to effectively evaluate and seize energy and cost savings opportunities. 


Connect with Us about Commercial and Public Building Energy Efficiency

Contact our Experts
  • Andrew Burr, U.S. Department of Energy,
    Existing Commercial Buildings Working Group, Staff Lead
  • Tracy Narel, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
    Existing Commercial Buildings Working Group, Staff Lead

Work Products

Greater Energy Savings through Building Energy Performance Policy: Four Leading Policy and Program Options

Greater Energy Savings through Building Energy Performance Policy: Four Leading Policy and Program Options lays out recommendations for linking existing policies and developing new policies, such that their success is based on the real energy savings achieved in buildings. This approach has the potential to affect the entire building lifecycle.

Guide for States: Energy Efficiency as a Least-Cost Strategy to Reduce Greenhouse Gases and Air Pollution, and Meet Energy Needs in the Power Sector

A practical document that presents established policy and program “pathways” to advance demand-side energy efficiency, including:

  • Ratepayer-funded energy efficiency
  • Building energy codes
  • Local government-led efforts, such as building performance policies
  • State-led efforts, such as energy savings performance contracting
  • Commercial and industrial private sector approaches, such as strategic energy management and combined heat and power.

The guide presents case studies of successful regional, state, and local approaches to energy efficiency with sources for more information, resources to understand the range of expected savings from energy efficiency, and common protocols for documenting savings.

2020 Leadership Agenda for Existing Commercial and Multifamily Buildings

Leadership by state and local governments is critical to unlock the national energy efficiency opportunities and deliver the benefits of efficiency to all Americans. Developed collaboratively by state and local officials, energy efficiency experts, and real estate practitioners, the Leadership Agenda defines the baseline actions that states and communities can take by 2020 to demonstrate national energy efficiency leadership.

Benchmarking and Disclosure: State and Local Policy Design Guide and Sample Policy Language

Provides sample policy language based on a synthesis of existing state and local policies, and discussion on key provisions, for the design of a commercial benchmarking and disclosure policy.

Energy Benchmarking, Rating, and Disclosure for Local Governments

Provides information on how access to energy use data can help local governments create policies for benchmarking and disclosing building energy performance for public and private sector buildings.

A Utility Regulator's Guide to Data Access for Commercial Building Energy Performance Benchmarking

Offers policy options and considerations to state utility commissions in providing access to energy use data to help commercial customers manage energy costs through building energy benchmarking.

Energy Audits and Retro-Commissioning: State and Local Policy Design Guide and Sample Policy Language

Provides guidance and sample policy language to help state and local governments enact and implement policies addressing energy assessments of or improvements to existing commercial buildings.