Honest Buildings

San Francisco’s Existing Commercial Building Energy Performance Ordinance

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View the San Francisco Compliance map here.

Energy is the single largest controllable operating cost in commercial facilities. The groundbreaking Existing Commercial Building Energy Performance Ordinance is helping San Francisco cut energy costs, which helps the environment, improves building value, and improves the competitiveness of local real estate. The policy reflects the recommendations of real estate professionals, building managers, engineers, and contractors about how to empower decision-makers with the essential information to make smart decisions about energy management.

The ordinance has two requirements. The first is to benchmark the building’s energy use, which shows how it compares to similar buildings and makes it easier to track progress. The second is an energy audit, which identifies specific and cost effective opportunities to save energy.

Building owners are responsible for tracking and reporting energy consumption annually using the free ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager tool (www.energystar.gov/benchmark). Buildings 50,000 square feet or larger were required to report for the first time by October 2011. In 2012 – and from now on – annual benchmark reports are due by April 1. Once your building is benchmarked in Portfolio Manager, the electronic report to SF Environment requires only a few mouse clicks, and the Dept of Environment confirms compliance within 2 business days. For details: www.sfenvironment.org/ecb.


Incentives Used: San Francisco Energy Watch (www.sfenergywatch.org) offers energy efficiency rebates to businesses of all sizes, as well as multifamily properties >4 units.

Benefits & Savings

Why Participate?

  • Saving energy saves money.
  • Knowledge is power. Benchmarking your building is necessary to ensure you don’t use more energy (and pay more for it) than competitors.
  • Get recognized for your leadership in energy management, rather than for failure to comply with the law.
  • The policy was written with extensive input from commercial stakeholders.
  • It’s important for stakeholders (owners, management, and tenants) to be able to check if their building is compliant, so compliance status is posted in [this map.]
  • The ordinance gives SF Environment the authority to impose fines of up to $100 per day. Recognizing that the law is new and affected owners need time to comply, no fines have been issued yet.



It’s easy to get started. Numerous energy efficiency companies offer benchmarking services, along with additional analyses and services to cut energy costs. Or you can use Portfolio Manager in-house with the help of a free step-by-step benchmarking workshop at the Pacific Energy Center (www.pge.com/energyclasses.) PG&E’s free Automated Benchmark Service (www.pge.com/benchmarking) helps you automatically upload energy data to ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager every month. If you prefer to learn online, SF Environment offers webinars about how to comply, and presentations are available upon request. ENERGYSTAR.gov is a wealth of tutorials and free webinars.


The second step, the energy audit, is a bigger undertaking, and requires a trained professional. Over the next two years, buildings smaller than 50,000 square feet will be required to conduct an ASHRAE Level I “walkthrough.” Buildings 50,000 square feet or larger must meet more detailed ASHRAE Level II guidelines. Many buildings are not required to have an audit because they have demonstrated excellence in energy management by:

  • Having had a qualifying audit or retrocommissioning since 2008,
  • Earning LEED for Existing Buildings certification, or
  • Getting the ENERGY STAR label regularly. (Buildings that score 75 or above, confirmed by a professional engineer, can qualify for recognition from ENERGY STAR.)
  • Buildings that are residential, less than five years old, smaller than 10,000 square feet, or under financial distress are also exempt.

For details, visit: www.SFEnvironment.org/ecb.

There are many resources available to building owners to help them reel in energy use and costs, such as SF Environment’s GreenFinance SF (www.greenfinancesf.org)  and SF Energy Watch (sfenergywatch.org) programs, as well as training (www.pge.com/energyclasses) and rebates from PG&E.

View the San Francisco compliance map here.




The Existing Commercial Buildings Energy Performance Ordinance in plain English: How to get started, requirements, applicability, and timeline.
First in a series of profiles in energy management
A profile in energy management
PG&E Case study featuring the power of benchmarking and energy upgrades in bank branches
If you've benchmarked your building in Portfolio Manager, it's only a few clicks to send in your Annual Energy Benchmark Summary.


Mark PalmerMar 22nd, 2012
Ted KiddMay 24th, 2012
Seems the right direction, but I don't understand why it has to be so complicated. Seems unnecessarily onerous. Instead of crawl, walk, run, fly it goes from the couch to running.

Breaking inertia is easiest if the bar doesn't seem high. Why not get energy use (can't find it here, why?), then benchmark by industry and sf. Sure, it's vague, but at least it's a starting point with very little barrier to participation.

Now you have momentum. From here people can see opportunity and decide to drill in further, or not.

This seems to ask for a lot before giving any idea what opportunity exists. I think adoption will be viral if all that is asked is to crawl.
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