Media FAQs about ENERGY STAR for commercial and industrial buildings

Tip: To search by keyword, hit Ctrl+F (Windows) or Cmd+F (Mac). To browse all technical FAQs, visit www.energystar.gov/buildingshelp

General information

What is the ENERGY STAR program?

ENERGY STAR is a voluntary program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) helping businesses and individuals save energy and fight climate change through superior energy efficiency.

I’m only familiar with ENERGY STAR on products like washing machines. What does ENERGY STAR have to do with buildings?

ENERGY STAR goes beyond products. Since 1992, EPA has worked with the owners and managers of commercial buildings to a) standardize the way that energy efficiency is measured, b) provide tools and resources to improve efficiency, and c) provide ENERGY STAR certification to top-performing buildings. Over the years, the program was expanded to provide the same resources to industrial plants and commercial building design projects (new construction).

Why do organizations become ENERGY STAR partners?

It’s about making a commitment. To join ENERGY STAR, an organization’s top-ranking official must make a public commitment to improve energy efficiency. That high-level, public commitment then becomes the catalyst for change. ENERGY STAR partners have access to partner-only informational seminars, networking events, marketing materials, and recognition for achievement. They also benefit from the credibility of being listed on the ENERGY STAR website.

What kind of assistance or tools do you offer building owners and managers?

Through ENERGY STAR, organizations have access to the following:

  • Twenty years of energy management best practices, rolled up into the ENERGY STAR Guidelines for Energy Management
  • Leading energy measurement and tracking tools, like Portfolio Manager
  • Technical guidance
  • Training, access to expert help, peer networking, and proven solutions from award-winning organizations
  • Off-the-shelf promotional tools like posters, tip cards, and web content
  • Recognition for achievements, such as ENERGY STAR certification

What is Portfolio Manager and how is it used?

EPA’s online energy management and tracking tool, ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, allows commercial building owners and managers to measure and track energy use, water use, and greenhouse gas emissions across their entire portfolio in a secure online environment. Users can set investment priorities, identify under-performing buildings, verify efficiency improvements, and receive EPA recognition for superior energy performance. As of 2012, Portfolio Manager was being used to track the energy performance of more than 300,000 buildings, or more than 40 percent of commercial space.

Saving energy

How can companies reduce their overall energy use? Are there themes and practices common to successful companies that save energy?

EPA has identified seven common management steps among ENERGY STAR partners that have reduced their overall energy use substantially over time:

  1. Make a commitment, preferably from the top-down
  2. Assess how your buildings are performing compared to similar buildings nationwide
  3. Set clear and measurable goals
  4. Make a plan
  5. Implement the plan
  6. Periodically measure energy performance to evaluate how well the plan is working; adjust plan as needed
  7. Recognize achievements

How do buildings improve their energy efficiency? How much does it typically cost?

Once a building owner or manager understands how a building is currently performing and what to aim for, EPA recommends following the five-stage technical approach outlined in the Building Upgrade Manual:

  1. Retrocommission
  2. Reduce lighting loads
  3. Reduce supplemental loads (e.g., equipment, wasteful behaviors, leaky windows, poor insulation, etc.)
  4. Improve air distribution systems
  5. Make upgrades to heating and cooling equipment

The stages, when followed in order, account for the interactions between different building systems. For example, replacing heat-producing incandescent bulbs with cool CFLs will mean that a building’s air conditioner won’t have to work as hard in the summer months, so a building may be able to downsize its cooling system based on the new lighting’s heat output.

Costs can vary greatly from building to building and depend on the number, and the type of improvements that need to be made. Another benefit of the five-stage approach is that it ensures that the lowest-cost measures get tackled first. As organizations progress through the five stages, they can roll their cost savings into larger and larger investments, culminating in the last, most expensive stage. By the time organizations start making upgrades to heating and cooling equipment, they should have already amassed substantial cost savings from previous lower-cost improvements.

What is the financial payoff or return on investment (ROI) once a building makes energy-efficiency improvements?

On average, 30 percent of the energy used by commercial buildings is wasted due to inefficiencies. By following its recommended five-stage approach, EPA estimates that most buildings can cost effectively reduce their energy use by 30 percent. Large capital upgrades can yield more savings. Still, ROI varies widely and is dependent on factors such as the type and scope of the improvements made. For organizations just getting started and wanting to know the payoffs for the “low-hanging fruit,” there are some industry averages that can be used as a rule of thumb:

Retrocommissioning/tune up. Analysis of commissioning projects for existing buildings showed a median commissioning cost of $0.27 per square foot, energy savings of 15 percent, and a simple payback period of 8 – 9 months.

Lighting retrofit. With good design, the amount of energy consumed by lighting can be cut by at least 50 percent in most buildings, with no sacrifice in light quality. Such designs typically pay for themselves in energy savings alone within 2 – 3 years. And that doesn’t even include the additional savings captured when you no longer need to remove the waste heat generated by inefficient lighting systems. For example, a 1-watt-per-square-foot reduction in lighting load in a 100,000-square-foot building would allow a chiller capacity reduction of about 23 tons (assuming 80 percent of the waste heat reaches the conditioned space). If a typical chiller costs $450 per ton, then a 23-ton reduction would reduce the first cost of a new chiller by more than $10,000.

What would you recommend a business do as a first step toward being more energy efficient?

The process of becoming more energy efficient is similar to that of going on a diet: you begin by stepping on the scale. This not only reveals your current weight, but it also gives you some indication of what will be involved in reaching your goal weight. (Daily “boot camp” classes at the gym…or just indulging less?)

So, once an organization has made a commitment to become more energy efficient, the first step is always to “step on the scale” and assess the current performance of all its buildings using Portfolio Manager. From there, organizations can set goals and make a plan for how to reach them. 

What actions can I personally take to reduce my carbon footprint?

The good news is that everyone can make small changes in their daily behaviors that, when taken together, can make a big impact in the fight against climate change. While you’re at work, you can save energy and reduce your carbon footprint in the following ways:

  • Use the ENERGY STAR power management settings on your computer and monitor so they go into power save mode when not in use.
  • Use a power strip as a central “turn off” point when you are using equipment to completely disconnect the power supply.
  • Unplug electronics such as cell phones and laptops once they’re charged.
  • Replace the light bulb in your desk lamp with an ENERGY STAR qualified bulb. It will last up to 10 times longer and use about 75 percent less energy.
  • Turn off the lights when you leave a room, especially at the end of the day.
  • Keep air vents clear of paper, files, and office supplies. It takes as much as 25 percent more energy to pump air into the workspace if the vents are blocked.
  • Create a Green Team with your co-workers to tackle bigger projects. Set a goal to make your building an ENERGY STAR qualified building.

ENERGY STAR certification

What does it mean if a building or plant has the ENERGY STAR certification?

Buildings and plants that have earned EPA’s ENERGY STAR are certified as performing among the top 25 percent of similar buildings nationwide. On average, ENERGY STAR certified buildings use 35 percent less energy and generate 35 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than their peers, making them an important part of the fight against climate change.

How can a building earn the ENERGY STAR? What types of specifications do they have to meet?

To earn EPA’s ENERGY STAR, buildings and plants must first measure their energy performance using either Portfolio Manager (for buildings) or energy performance indicators (for industrial plants). These tools calculate a 1 – 100 ENERGY STAR score for each facility. The score rates facilities’ energy performance relative to similar facilities nationwide. A building or plant with a score of 50 is average; a score of 75 or higher is eligible to earn the ENERGY STAR.

If a building earns a score of 75 or higher, a licensed professional engineer or registered architect must verify that the building’s energy data and operating characteristics are correct and that the building meets indoor air quality standards. Assuming the building checks out, then it becomes ENERGY STAR certified for a period of 12 months. After the 12-month period, if a facility wants to retain its certification, it must go through the scoring and application process again to demonstrate that it has sustained top performance.

Does it cost money for a building to earn the ENERGY STAR certification? How much?

There is no cost to apply for or earn ENERGY STAR certification. However, buildings’ applications must be verified by a professional engineer or registered architect. The verification involves a review of the energy data and a site visit to ensure that indoor air quality standards are being met and operating characteristics properly documented. This service typically costs $1,000 - $1,500. Many engineers and architects also offer free or discounted verifications to K-12 schools, congregations, or others in need of financial assistance.

Why do companies pursue ENERGY STAR certification?

EPA’s ENERGY STAR is America’s symbol of energy efficiency. On average, ENERGY STAR certified buildings generate 35 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than typical buildings, are less expensive to operate, and are more attractive to tenants.

Organizations choose to pursue ENERGY STAR certification for a variety of reasons. They may want to show their customers, employees, shareholders, investors, tenants, constituents, and community that they are saving energy and fighting climate change in a way that these folks will understand and trust.

Others have found that the process of applying for the ENERGY STAR for any given year is akin to an annual physical. Given that their application requires validation by a professional engineer or registered architect, it’s a time when facility managers can identify anomalies in building data, discover and correct billing errors, and, once certified, have confidence that the building is actually performing well.

Still others, such as building owners that wish to lease space to the Federal Government, must get their buildings ENERGY STAR certified to comply with requirements.

How much more efficient is an ENERGY STAR certified building than the average building? How much energy and money do they save?

ENERGY STAR certified buildings and plants are more energy efficient than three-quarters of similar facilities nationwide. On average, ENERGY STAR certified buildings use 35 percent less energy and generate 35 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than typical buildings.

Energy use in commercial buildings and manufacturing plants accounts for nearly half of all energy consumption in the U.S. at a cost of over $200 billion per year, more than any other sector of the economy. Commercial and industrial facilities are also responsible for nearly half of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to climate change.

As of the end of last year, ENERGY STAR certified buildings are saving $2.3 billion every year, or an average of nearly $140,000 per building. ENERGY STAR certified industrial plants are saving more than $750 million every year, or an average of more than $6.9 million per plant.

How many buildings are ENERGY STAR certified?

More than 20,000 buildings and plants have earned EPA’s ENERGY STAR as of the end of 2012. You can get the exact count at www.energystar.gov/buildinglist

Isn’t it mostly new buildings that can earn the ENERGY STAR?

It’s a common misperception that newer buildings are more energy efficient than older buildings. In fact, a quick look through the list of ENERGY STAR certified buildings shows a wide distribution in ages, ranging from buildings that were built just a few years ago, to others that were built in the 1800’s.

How can I tell if a building is ENERGY STAR certified?

EPA maintains a registry of all ENERGY STAR certified buildings and plants at www.energystar.gov/buildinglist. A number of smartphone apps can also identify ENERGY STAR buildings on a map or within a given radius of your current location.

What’s the difference between LEED and ENERGY STAR?

EPA's ENERGY STAR identifies the nation's most energy-efficient commercial buildings and industrial plants. Through ENERGY STAR, EPA offers 1 – 100 ENERGY STAR scores that rate buildings against their peers. To earn the ENERGY STAR, a fully operational facility must earn an ENERGY STAR score of 75 or higher, meaning that it performs in the top 25 percent of similar facilities nationwide for energy efficiency.

LEED is a green building rating system administered by the private non-profit U.S. Green Building Council.  LEED addresses several environmental attributes in addition to energy efficiency, such as materials, waste, and water. To earn LEED certification, a building does not always need to meet the rigorous energy performance level required to earn EPA's ENERGY STAR.

While LEED can help organizations achieve a wide range of sustainability goals, ENERGY STAR certification is the only way to ensure superior energy performance. For this reason, the two programs can work very well together.

Climate change

Is there scientific consensus on climate change?

Yes. The major scientific agencies of the United States — including NASA and NOAA — agree that climate change is occurring and that humans are contributing to it. Scientists are still researching a number of detailed questions, but broad agreement exists in the United States and abroad that climate change is happening and is primarily caused by excess greenhouse gases from human activities.

What proof is there that the climate is changing?

The global average temperature increased by more than 1.4°F over the last century. In fact, the decade from 2000 to 2010 was the warmest on record.

Rising global temperatures have also been accompanied by other changes. Many places have experienced changes in rainfall resulting in more intense rain, as well as more frequent and severe heat waves. The planet's oceans and glaciers have also experienced changes: oceans are warming and becoming more acidic, ice caps are melting, and sea levels are rising.  All of these changes are evidence that our world is getting warmer.

What is causing climate change?

Upon careful examination, the warming we have seen in the past 50 years cannot be explained by natural factors alone, such as the planet’s natural warming and cooling cycles. There is much evidence that shows that recent global warming is primarily a result of greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.

What impacts will climate change have?

The world in which we live is a delicately balanced ecosystem. Changing the average global temperature by even a degree or two can lead to serious consequences around the globe. For about every 2 degrees Fahrenheit of warming, we can expect to see:

    5% – 15% reductions in crop yields as currently grown

    3% – 10% increases in the amount of rainfall during storms

    5% – 10% decreases in stream flow in some river basins, including the Arkansas and the Rio Grande

    200% – 400% increases in the area burned by wildfire in parts of the western United States

Global average temperatures have increased more than 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit over the last 100 years. Many of the extreme precipitation and heat events that we have seen in recent years are consistent with what we would expect given this amount of warming. Scientists project that Earth's average temperatures will rise between 2 and 12 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.

Is it too late to do anything about climate change?

No! It’s not too late to have a significant impact on future climate change and its effects on us. With appropriate actions by governments, communities, individuals, and businesses, we can reduce the amount of greenhouse gas pollution we release and lower the risk of a warming climate and severe consequences. Many of the actions that we can take to address climate change will have other benefits, such as cleaner, healthier air.

See more FAQs on climate change or join the fight against climate change today.