2016 Finalist

This project has been selected as a finalist in the Energy and Climate category:

Minneapolis energy benchmarking program

Project Summary

Energy can be an elusive thing. We see our lights and appliances working and feel the comfortable, constant temperature of our building spaces, but can you sense energy waste? Building inefficiency is typically hidden, unknown, and out of mind.

The City of Minneapolis’ Energy Benchmarking program is turning that around by making energy efficiency information transparent and available in the commercial market. The program requires the largest commercial buildings in the city – public over 25,000 ft2 and private buildings over 50,000 ft2 – to track and report their building’s energy and water performance annually using the federal ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager software. The reported information is then publicly disclosed online for building managers and occupants to learn and compare the efficiency of office, retail, school, hospital, and other buildings throughout the city.

The major benefits include:

  • Showing property owners and managers how their buildings are using - and wasting - energy. The crucial first step in addressing and managing energy use is understanding building energy performance.
  • Helping businesses and consumers make more informed decisions that take actual energy costs into account when buying or renting property.
  • Lowering energy costs to owners and tenants, reducing greenhouse gas impacts, and creating jobs in the energy services and construction trades.
  • Establishing energy performance ranges and using it to help owners see how their building's energy use stacks up to their local peers.
  • Allowing the City to track its energy reduction strategies as part of the Minneapolis Climate Action Plan goals of 30% greenhouse gas reductions by 2025.

To roll-out the program, the City worked with several partners on a phased approach. Public buildings first reported in 2013, followed by private large commercial buildings greater than 100,000ft2 in 2014, and private midsize buildings between 50,000 and 100,000 ft2 in 2015. Public building performance was also first disclosed in 2013, while the two private building categories were given a year of ‘practice’ before having second year information made public.

As building energy benchmarking was new for the majority of private buildings, the City and its partners strove to ensure building owners were aware of the ordinance and understood the benefits of benchmarking. In addition, the team developed training materials, hosted workshops, and answered more than 400 helpline calls and 600 helpline emails over the last two years.

The benchmarking data are providing valuable insights for building managers, utilities, and energy service providers. Overall, the portfolio of benchmarked buildings is rather high-performing showing an ENERGY STAR score of 74 out of 100, which is well above the median national score, 50. The dataset is also showing specific property types and individual buildings that with low performance, indicating specific opportunities for energy and dollar savings. Since the data is made publicly available, utilities and energy service providers are identifying and targeting buildings for improvements to reduce energy consumption, energy costs, and greenhouse gas emissions – the City’s ultimate goals.

Could these goals be reached without the program? Potentially. But the market operates more efficiently and cost effectively with adequate information. The Minneapolis’ benchmarking program addresses a key information gap. By making building energy performance more transparent, the program is driving its largest energy users to re-think building energy.

Project Website


Project Partners

  • City of Minneapolis
  • Center for Energy and the Environment (CEE)
  • Retiree Environmental Technical Assistance Program (RETAP)
  • Xcel Energy
  • CenterPoint Energy
  • Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA)
  • McKnight Foundation
  • Energy Foundation
  • Building owners and managers

How did the project partners work together?

The City collaborated heavily with funding partners, building efficiency experts, and utilities. The McKnight Foundation and Energy Foundation provided base funding support, which is crucial in program’s initial years. This funding offset staff costs for compliance and enforcement, and also training, workshops, helpline, and outreach administered by the City and CEE. As technical and training specialists, CEE brought the program greater legitimacy in the building community and provided connections to the efficiency industry for buildings looking to make improvements.

For greater benchmarking assistance, RETAP developed tools making the benchmarking process easier and the results more understandable. This was especially important to buildings like worship facilities and non-profits lacking energy managers.

Minneapolis competes globally to attract business, and increasingly companies are adding energy efficient spaces to their criteria. Thanks to an MPCA grant, the City is providing funds to lower the cost for buildings to apply for nationally-recognized ENERGY STAR certification, which increases the visibility of high performing spaces.

The Clean Energy Partnership between the City, Xcel Energy, and CenterPoint Energy - a unique approach to help the City achieve its climate and benchmarking goals -has facilitated greater sharing of utility conservation program participation and the City’s building stock information. This sharing is leading to opportunities for targeting existing and piloting new conservation programs to buildings identified with the benchmarking data.

Further collaboration with Xcel Energy through DOE’s Better Buildings Energy Data Accelerator program has resulted in Xcel Energy’s Energy Benchmarking Tool – a service transferring meter reading data automatically into ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager thereby saving time and effort. This is helping to transform the marketplace as it is available to all Xcel Minnesota customers.

How is the project groundbreaking?

In 2013, Minneapolis was the first city in the Midwest to adopt a benchmarking ordinance and only the 7th nationally following on the heels of larger cities such as New York City and Seattle, whose policies were also in their infancy at the time. And although Minnesota is no stranger to benchmarking having developed B3 Benchmarking for public entity use, the Minneapolis Commercial Benchmarking and Disclosure ordinance was the first in the state to include the private sector. The City of Minneapolis is considered a fully built out city – meaning there is little space for new, sustainable construction and therefore, must focus on existing buildings to meet its Climate Action Plan goals. City staff have received calls from other cities (local, regional and national) interested in learning about our pragmatic but effective process and results.

The crafting of a valuable and successfully implemented policy directed at private commercial buildings was no small task. The idea was born out of the Think Green Initiative - a green jobs creation initiative between Minneapolis and St. Paul involving business, government, and non-profit stakeholders. As the idea developed, the City convened local stakeholders including local building owners, managers, operators, utilities, and energy service providers in the creation of the policy until its adoption in 2013. This inclusive and community-oriented development process helped to garner support from the private sector, helped drive high compliance rates, and has made buildings excited to see how their energy performance stacks up to that of peers.

What are the project goals?

The ultimate aim of the Minneapolis energy benchmarking program is to reduce greenhouse gas emission in large commercial buildings through energy efficiency. In general, buildings already have an incentive to save energy and the associated greenhouse gas emissions in order to keep operating costs low. However, the information necessary to understand whole building energy performance relative to itself and to peers was lacking. The program is designed to provide transparency of building energy performance, thereby allowing market forces drive energy efficiency improvements. In the marketplace, buildings compete for tenants, and they notice best practice strategies employed by other similar buildings. These events spur adoption of energy efficiency projects and strategies, which save on energy, utility costs, and climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions.

What are the project outcomes?

The Minneapolis energy benchmarking program has provided valuable building performance data on 429 buildings representing 50% of commercial building square footage, which is responsible for 16% of community-wide greenhouse gas emissions.

In general, Minneapolis’ large commercial building stock performs better than the national average, and there are indications that buildings are seeing the value in prioritizing energy efficiency:

  • The median ENERGY STAR score was 74 – meaning nearly half of buildings with scores qualified for ENERGY STAR certification.
  • Private building response rate reached 90% by the August 2015 disclosure deadline and responses for the largest private buildings reached 100% by the end of 2015.
  • Looking at trends in public buildings, preliminary three-year analysis shows a 7% reduction in total weather-normalized energy use intensity.
  • Over the three years Minneapolis Public Schools has participated in the program, they have adopted a renewed focus on whole building energy performance monitoring. The district is also seeking to highlight success by investigating ENERGY STAR certification for eligible school buildings and sharing results of their achievements.
  • The benchmarking team is tracking utility energy rebates for commercial buildings and seeing activity in recommissioning and other upgrades.
  • While still in its first year, 15 buildings have signed on to the Minneapolis Building Energy Challenge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 15%.

This information would have been unattainable without dedication to training and outreach. In the past two years, the benchmarking team developed training materials, hosted four workshops, and addressed more than 400 helpline calls and 600 helpline emails.

Event Details

Thursday, May 25, 2017
5:00 - 5:45 p.m. Registration & reception
5:45 - 8:00 p.m. Dinner & program
8:00 - 9:00 p.m. Dessert & reception 

Nicollet Island Pavilion
40 Power Street
Minneapolis, MN 55401

Google Map »

Parking Map »

Metro Transit »


Awards Home »

2017 Award Winners »

About the Awards »

Award Categories »

Guidelines and Eligibility »

Evaluation Criteria and Judging »

Sponsor the Awards »

Past Finalists and Winners »

Presenting Sponsors

Environmental Lay Group

Great River Energy

Reception sponsor

25th Anniversary Sponsors


Community Action

Critical Collaborator

Stoel Rives LLP

Emerging Leader


Energy and Climate

The Weidt Group

Natural Resources

Sustainable Business

Supporting Sponsors

Minnesota Power

partner SPONSORs

In-kind sponsors


CliftonLarsonAllen LLP

Consulate General of Canada

Rochester Public Utilities

Associate Sponsors

Bremer Bank
G & K Services
Nova Consulting
Smith Partners