Buildings are Key for Climate Action Plans

January 20, 2017

As colleges and universities act on climate change, building energy efficiency should be a focus of their efforts. Greenhouse gas emissions are commonly assigned to three different scopes:

  1. Emissions from direct fuel consumption
  2. Emissions from purchased energy
  3. Indirect emissions from business travel, purchasing, commuting, and other activities

For most institutions, building energy use makes up the bulk of their scope 1 and scope 2 emissions. Harvard, for instance, has found that building energy use makes up 98% of their Scope 1 and 2 emissions, with vehicles and refrigerant leakage making up the other 2%.

Technologies to significantly reduce the energy use of buildings are readily available, cost effective, and proven. Choosing which buildings to focus on, and which technologies are a good fit for any given building, are less clear. Colleges and Universities own a diverse set of buildings that each have unique energy needs. Directly comparing energy costs or energy use intensity across different building types may mislead facility managers on which buildings have the greatest opportunities. An administration office building using 80 kBTU/sf may have greater opportunity for energy and emission savings than a laboratory using 150 kBTU/sf. Similarly, the oldest, or the largest, buildings may not be the ones that have the greatest potential savings. Many use these common rules of thumb and gain some savings, but we have found that targeted benchmarking can more cost-effectively pinpoint buildings for improvements. In fact,we have found that total energy use for a building only explains 36% of the potential savings variations between buildings.

Benchmarking to Identify Savings Opportunities

Benchmarking allows us to calculate which buildings have the greatest savings opportunities, and focus our efforts on those buildings. By comparing each building’s current energy use to its energy use if it were built new to the current energy code, we can calculate a potential savings for each building. This gives us a clear understanding of which buildings are performing well, and which buildings have savings opportunities for that building type. When we do this, we find that 20% of the buildings have 80% of the savings opportunities for most campuses. 

By focusing on the buildings with the highest savings opportunities first, we help our clients quickly determine the minimum number of buildings that need to be tuned-up and improved to meet their efficiency and climate goals.

B3 Benchmarking dashboard

Identify Specific Strategies and Projects

Once the buildings have been prioritized, we find the right opportunities for each building. On some buildings the greatest opportunities may be controls changes, while others may need to replace equipment or assemblies. By analyzing the energy consumption data, walking through the building, and working with the Building Automation System we can implement short payback items immediately, and quantify the savings potential for capital improvements for the university to consider. Considering the building holistically, including the interaction between proposed strategies, allows us to identify bundles of measures that may not be cost effective on their own and produce a cost effective package that meets goals more quickly when combined together.

Ongoing Monitoring

Lastly, to achieve persistent savings and track progress towards the institution’s goals, ongoing monitoring is key. Monitoring energy consumption and comparing it to the target and previous consumption allows for adjustments if the building’s energy use starts to trend up. We’ve seen monitoring identify air handler hours that were adjusted for an after-hour’s event that were not returned to the normal settings, as well as demonstrate when differences in energy consumption are due to weather fluctuations between years. Monitoring helps you stay on track with your goals.

B3 Benchmarking dashboard


Building energy use is the primary contributor to greenhouse gas emissions for colleges and universities. Benchmarking and monitoring allows institutions to identify which buildings have the greatest savings opportunities, as well as what technologies and changes are appropriate for those buildings. In our work with colleges and universities, we’ve identified campus-wide savings potential between 18% and 56% of their current cost and carbon impacts. We help our clients achieve these savings with proven cost-effective technologies that also maintain savings over time, and we work to ensure our clients understand their energy use and performance to avoid costly and unnecessary audits and studies by tracking and comparing energy and emissions use.