Cities are on the front lines in experiencing the impacts of climate change. They deal with the logistics of cleaning up flooded homes and businesses from ever-more powerful storms, rebuilding leveled communities from increasingly powerful and frequent wildfires, and finding reliable water sources for their constituents during prolonged droughts. Consensus in climate science research is that these problems will continue to worsen as our global climate continues to warm.
Grappling with the effects of climate change first hand, cities are also leading the charge to mitigate its causes—recognizing the connection between emissions levels and climate change, many are setting ambitious greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets, and exercising the authority of local leadership to implement real, impactful solutions.
In most urban areas, the highest GHG-emitting sector is the energy produced for and used in buildings, which should make programs targeting energy efficiency in buildings a high priority. To more effectively shape these programs by understanding where and how energy is being used in their jurisdictions, many local governments are implementing benchmarking and transparency policies to collect and publish whole-building energy performance information about their largest buildings (to date, 24 cities, two states, and one county have implemented such policies).
However, gathering the data is one step; using it as an active planning and business tool is another. Recognizing that the data is most valuable when used to drive smarter business decisions and savings, IMT launched Putting Data to Work, a three-year project to understand how this wealth of data is and can be used to its full potential.
Putting Data to Work: From Spreadsheets to Savings
To be most effective, the data generated by benchmarking polices must be used to its maximum potential, coupled with parallel efforts in cities, states, and the private sector, to drive greater energy efficiency. Over Putting Data to Work’s three years, we partnered with New York City and Washington, D.C.—both frontrunners in the collection of benchmarking data at the city level—to develop a toolkit of resources that will help governments and organizations in other cities with benchmarking policies and programs to build off of their successes, and learn from their challenges, without having to start from scratch.
The Putting Data to Work toolkit, now available online at imt.org/PuttingDatatoWork, is designed to assist two primary groups: city government sustainability leaders and utility or third-party efficiency program implementers.
For city government sustainability leaders, the toolkit includes a report explaining ways that benchmarking and audit data can help identify high-priority buildings for outreach, communicate the opportunity for energy efficiency, and translate it into actionable information for the private sector, as well as how to incorporate data into local climate and energy planning and ensure that high-quality data are collected and used. The toolkit also includes a resource list to help cities guide building owners take their efficiency efforts to the next level after benchmarking, and a guide to help cities answer the critical question of whether energy efficiency policies and programs having an impact.
For utility and third-party efficiency implementers, the toolkit includes a primer on the emerging uses of policy-generated building energy data for utilities, which includes strategies for improving customer service, programs, operations, resilience, and other priorities. The toolkit also includes a program administrator guide for using data to identify prospective customers and step-by-step guidance for engaging in conversations about energy data with building owners.
For each of these groups, toolkit components are divided into three types: Reports that provide high-level takeaways, best practices, and guidance; Tools that contain action-oriented recommendations based on lessons learned in the District and New York; and case studies of on-the-ground efforts in each city. These stories include:
- The New York City Mayor’s Office of Sustainability Retrofit Accelerator Efficiency Advisors’ use of benchmarking and audit data to help identify high-priority buildings for targeted energy efficiency improvements;
- NYCEEC’s efficienSEETM tool, which incorporates benchmarking data to help building owners understand the potential savings they can achieve through energy efficiency improvements;
- The District of Columbia’s District Department of Energy and Environment use of benchmarking data in its climate planning process; and
- The District of Columbia Sustainable Energy Utility’s use of benchmarking data in conjunction with internal, proprietary data to better serve their customers.
Following our own lead on turning documents into data-driven decisions and action, IMT and its project partners will be digging into the toolkit over the coming months to further explore our findings via webinars, blogs, and in-the-field presentations. Stay tuned at imt.org/PuttingDatatoWork, which not only provides easy access to the toolkit, but also will remain updated of upcoming opportunities to continue our conversation about deploying policy-generated building performance data to its maximum benefit. Also, be sure to follow IMT’s social media accounts on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, and sign up for IMT’s monthly newsletter, Transform, to not only stay in the loop on further discussion opportunities, but give us your feedback, too. Whether you’re a sustainability leader considering a building performance policy, an implementer gathering this treasure chest of information, or a program administrator or building owner looking to maximize what this data can do for you, we want to know: How are you putting data to work?