EPAs Energy Star Program Now Helps Commercial Building Owners Track Waste

Commercial building owners and managers have been using Portfolio Manager to track energy for some time.

Commercial real estate owners, who’ve been tracking energy through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Energy Star Portfolio Manager, now have the additional benefit of a waste and materials tracking feature.

It’s a free and voluntary online software benchmarking and tracking tool run by EPA, says Mike Zatz, Energy Star Commercial Buildings Manager. The primary users are owners and managers of commercial buildings, excluding single-family homes and those used for manufacturing. 

Commercial building owners and managers have been using Portfolio Manager to track energy for some time.

“It has been around for nearly 20 years,” says Zatz. “The purpose of the tool is to help building owners and managers to access and track the performance of the building. It was initially developed to access and track the energy performance of their building, but we have expanded it over the years, and now with the addition of waste, managers can now track energy use; water use; waste generation and management; and the costs associated with energy, water and waste and greenhouse gas emissions.”

Owners already are using Portfolio Manager to measure energy, water and greenhouse gas metrics in more than 450,000 U.S. buildings, representing more 40 percent of U.S. commercial space, as well as in more than 10,000 buildings in Canada. Commercial buildings may include office buildings, schools and places of worship, hospitals, stadiums and retails stores.

Portfolio Manager now allows commercial building owners to benchmark 29 types of waste across four different management metrics. Among those types of waste are building materials, glass, paper, plastics and trash.

According to EPA, U.S. commercial buildings and manufacturing activities currently are responsible for as much as 45 percent of the 150 million tons of U.S. waste sent to incinerators or landfills each year. Transportation, decomposition, and incineration also generates greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollutants.

The addition of waste tracking to the software is the culmination of a year-long collaboration between EPA’s Energy Star and Sustainable Materials Management programs and industry members to identify key performance metrics for waste and materials management, says Ron Vance, branch chief of the Materials Conservation and Recycling Branch within the Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery.

It’s important, Vance says, because Portfolio Manager is giving commercial building owners an opportunity to learn more about the waste their building is generating.

“I think for commercial building owners there’s actually a lack of knowledge for what’s happening with the material coming out of their building,” he says. “They don’t understand, for the most part, how and what they‘re paying for (for waste hauling and disposal.) They have no idea how much material is going out of their building. So first and foremost, is just to be able to develop an understanding of that. And there is an economic benefit to doing that and of understanding and learning to maximize the service that you’re instituting.”

Zatz says, with Porfolio Manager, users set up their own password-protected accounts and put their own data into it. No one else has access to that data. But it gives them the flexibility and opportunity to share data with other people, and if they choose to do that, generate various reports for their own use or for others.

Portfolio Manager is a repository for all that data and it will calculate various metrics for you, he says.

“Our philosophy is you can’t manage what you don’t measure. So to figure out what you need to do and where your best opportunities are, first measure how you’re doing. Figure out how you’re doing now and develop the best strategy,” Zatz says.

According to Vance, dialogue with new sustainability director positions that are coming online at many organizations all the time leads him to believe that those positions manage all three of these major programs – energy, water and waste.

“Putting it in one place gave us an opportunity to streamline for them a singular tracking program,” he says.

In general, there’s a lack of access to data because unlike energy and water there is not a direct metric and in most cases, says Vance, the bills are not structured that way.

“We hope that by putting this into Portfolio Manager, with so many users, that this will help define a way that you can and should be measuring and tracking waste in commercial buildings and that would then hopefully spur the waste haulers to be able to provide more of the data to the buildings,” says Vance.

There has been a larger movement in mindset toward sustainability and materials management. The thinking is more holistic, he says.

“So there’s a whole idea of looking across energy, water and waste and having an understanding of what’s going on across all of them.”

Portfolio Manager was already tracking energy and water, had a significant user-ship and so presented an opportunity to integrate the three together and have tracking in one place, he says.

And the addition of waste to the portfolio, appears to be getting some attention.

Last week, Portfolio Manager hosted a free webinar training that hosted approximately 500 attendees, many of whom were new to the Portfolio Manager. Another webinar, scheduled September 15, will address how to use the new waste tracking feature.  

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