Benchmarking in Pursuit of Sustainability


The growing demand for energy efficient buildings revealed a need to provide building operators and managers with guidance. BOMA International filled the gap with comparability data and education. The result: significant energy-use reductions.

The Challenge

As sustainability practices gained traction in building design and construction beginning in the mid-1990s, the built environment responded by creating programs such as Green Globes, the Leadership in Energy Efficient Design (LEED) certification, and others aimed at setting energy-efficiency standards for new construction. Many of these programs are now widely recognized standards of excellence in energy efficiency.

The Building Owners and Managers Association International recognized a gap between the standards and the staff capabilities to understand and implement the strategies necessary increase energy efficiencies. Once construction was completed, what strategies could building operators and managers could use to make older buildings more sustainable? A lack of benchmarks and education made it difficult for managers to identify where they stood—and how to improve.

The Approach

BOMA identified an opportunity to guide building operators toward clearer sustainability goals. The association began by leveraging the association’s Experience Exchange Report, a 100-year-old survey that catalogs and aggregates key financial and performance data for buildings in 250 North American cities. The report allows practitioners to use national and individual market data, break it down into metrics, and identify ways to remain competitive in a tightening marketplace by comparing everything from operational strategies to operational expenses, and even the cost of service contracts. Beginning with the 2009 report, the organization tracked buildings with EPA’s Energy Star certifications as well as those that participated in the LEED program.

Additionally, BOMA created programs designed to address building management’s role in providing an environmentally friendly building for tenants. To obtain the data, BOMA created energy-driven programs that would not only facilitate the benchmarking but advance sustainability and energy efficiency of buildings across the country. The key to these programs, which have won awards from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and secured buy-in from many industry participants, has been a data-driven approach that prizes transparency and benchmarking.
BOMA hypothesized that a missing component to achieving advanced levels of efficiency was reliable benchmarking data and that such data could serve as a basis for new efficiency programs moving forward. With a means of regularly gathering the data in place, BOMA used benchmarking insights to develop programs—including benchmarking tools, implementation guides, and educational resources—to ensure that participants have a clear understanding of how to achieve energy efficiency.

The four programs in the initiative are as follows:

7-Point Challenge

BOMA also set forth seven points of change for participants to focus on to create a more sustainable environment in their buildings. More than 857 buildings and 30 companies have participated in the challenge, and they represent more than 184 million square feet of office space.

The seven points are:

  1. Decrease energy consumption by 30 percent across portfolios by 201—70 percent of participants achieved this goal.
  2. Benchmark energy and water consumption using EPA’s Energy Star tool—80 percent of participants achieved this goal.
  3. Educate building managers to ensure proper maintenance and use of equipment—100 percent of participants achieved this goal.
  4. Perform an energy audit or retro-commissioning of buildings and implement low-risk, low-cost strategies to improve efficiency—96 percent of participants achieved this goal.
  5. Extend equipment life through operational and maintenance improvements—100 percent of participants achieved this goal.
  6. Show community leadership to help reduce the industry’s role in global warming—90 percent of participants achieved this goal.
  7. Position building managers and the industry as leaders and solution providers to environmentally focused owners and tenants—100 percent of participants achieved this goal.

BOMA Energy Efficiency Program

BEEP is the industry standard for energy management training. This six-course series educates real estate companies and organizations in best practices, industry trends, and new technologies available to reduce energy and costs and improve the energy performance of real estate assets.

BOMA Energy Performance Contracting Model

This model provides a conceptual framework and templates to help building owners and operators improve energy performance and create value through energy-performance retrofits. It gives building owners and service providers a new starting point from which to navigate through the complexities of an energy-performance contract.

The Water and Waste Challenge

While energy efficiency has been at the forefront of sustainability efforts, BOMA recently shifted attention to also address water and waste usage. In 2017, BOMA launched the W2 Challenge, a two-year initiative that supported commercial real estate practitioners in benchmarking water and waste consumption and associated costs and implementing best practices. The intent was that through the challenge, participants would better understand their properties’ water and waste usage and be able to compare their performance to peers. Ultimately, participants were able to reduce their water use intensity in their portfolios by as much as 56 percent and their waste use intensity by as much as 52 percent.


Data provided in BOMA’s Experience Exchange Report survey has shown significant reductions in energy use in commercial buildings. Over the past 10 years, participating private sector commercial buildings have seen an average decrease of utility expenses of more than 11.2 percent. In 2018, the average yearly cost per square foot decreased to $1.99 compared to $2.29 in 2008.

Additionally, BOMA’s W2 Challenge proved there is an increased need for programs related to other avenues of sustainability, such as water and waste. Moving forward, BOMA seeks to continue developing cutting-edge programs as advances are made and new standards are set in the sustainability arena. Specific areas for further exploration include cost savings associated with energy efficiency, the ability to charge premium rents at sustainable properties, participants’ use of shared benchmarking tools, and other economic incentives that encourage long-term program participation.


Energy benchmarking and sustainability have far-reaching impacts on society. According to the Department of Energy, in 2017, residential and commercial buildings accounted for about 39 percent of total energy consumption. BOMA’s programs have helped building owners and tenants save on utility bills while benefiting society via greenhouse gas reductions.

The Experience Exchange Report has indicated a significant reduction of energy use in participating commercial buildings. Buildings participating in the 7-Point Challenge saw reductions in energy consumption of up to 30 percent. The BEEP program has trained an estimated 35,000 real estate professionals since 2007. And since its initial launch, BEPC has facilitated projects in more than 20 cities across five continents.

More than 2,000 buildings around the world have received BOMA 360 Performance Program designations since 2009. Participants report that they have been able to charge higher rents because customers recognize their environmental efforts. An independent survey by Kingsley Associates reported BOMA 360 buildings earn higher tenant satisfaction scores, and a study conducted by CoStar Group, Inc. reports that BOMA 360 buildings have higher tenant retention rates and are worth higher rental rates than similar buildings without the designation.


“We’re helping to save the planet. A better environment for them and their children and grandchildren. Better, safer, cleaner, environmentally-friendly places to work. What we have offered is the ability and tools our members need to be stewards of the built environment. We take our responsibility seriously.” —Henry Chamberlain, APR, FASAE, CAE, President, BOMA International
“Before it was popular, BOMA has been at the forefront of helping the real estate industry better understand energy efficiency and sustainability risks and opportunities, as well as how to better benchmark and improve performance. Their business care approach to engage, educate, measure and advocate for better environmental and financial outcomes has been invaluable not just for real estate owners and operators but more broadly for all stakeholders.” —Brenna Walraven, CEO, Corporate Sustainability Strategies, Inc.
“The impact of the energy benchmarking and sustainability initiatives to our association and industry has been tremendous. Collectively, our research and sustainability programs have dramatically reduced the energy use of commercial buildings across the country. Energy benchmarking has now become a mainstay practice in most commercial real estate portfolios, in large part because of our efforts to promote sustainability.” —John Bryant, Vice President of Advocacy, BOMA International