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Commercial Tenants Playbook

In a tenant-driven market for office space like the City, tenants have the ability to demand high-performing buildings and spaces. As a tenant, this gives you a powerful opportunity to normalize an expectation around energy-efficient, healthy buildings, even if tenants are not always directly responsible for building operations. Prioritizing building performance can have positive long-term returns to your finances by significantly lowering your utility bills, making your space more comfortable and healthy and improving worker productivity.

Take action when you pursue a new lease

  • Tell your broker your concerns about utility costs and building health. Ensure that your broker, in addition to understanding your space and cost requirements, understands what your expectations are for the performance of the base building or how the building or landlord’s energy efficiency goals should align with yours.

  • Ask questions about the landlord’s sustainability goals. Review available documentation about the landlord’s sustainability goals or targets related to their own business or for the building.

  • Compare building scores for past levels of performance. The City discloses performance data for all municipal and non-municipal (institutional, commercial, and multifamily residential) buildings ≥50,000 sq. ft. that are required to comply with its benchmarking requirements. That information is publicly available. The building’s ENERGY STAR score (on a scale from 1–100) indicates how it is performing. If a building has a high ENERGY STAR score, it means it has been historically well-managed with consistent operating expenses.

  • Understand how new building regulations might affect your site selection. The Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPS) are a regulatory tool that the City is using to help meet its green building and climate goals. A BEPS sets minimum building energy performance thresholds for existing buildings. These standards are based on and measured against a building’s demonstrated energy performance, as shown in their benchmarking data. A building owner with a property that doesn’t meet the standard for their property type will be required to improve the property’s performance. While a tenant is not directly responsible for compliance with this regulation, how a building is performing, and improvements that might be required, could impact a tenant’s operational expenses.

  • Ask your broker how the regulations might affect your lease. There are a number of “green leasing” clauses that can ensure landlords and tenants both save on energy costs.

  • Ask if the potential space can be submetered. Having a submeter for your space allows you to separately track and measure your energy consumption. This can be useful to ensure you are meeting any energy targets and protect yourself from liability should the building not meet the BEPS thresholds.

Take action when renewing an existing lease 

  • Find the building’s current performance score. Review publicly available information about the building’s performance. 

  • Talk to your landlord about their plan for BEPS. Ask your landlord if the building is going to be compliant with the BEPS thresholds, and if not, what the plan is to bring the building into compliance. The answer might have implications for you as you renegotiate your lease.

  • Ask if your landlord can help improve the efficiency and comfort of your space. Energy reduction strategies can be simple, straightforward, and often implemented at little to no cost. Even if an improvement involves a capital cost investment, a landlord might be able to wrap it up into a larger building project, thereby creating economies of scale, or helping you access outside sources of funding. BEPS is designed to incentivize landlords to help improve the performance of their tenant’s spaces. 

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Take action in the middle of an existing lease

  • Submeter your space. Ask your landlord if your space can be submetered, as you can’t improve what you don’t track. Submetering your space and tracking your energy consumption is an effective way to understand your energy impact on the overall building. For example, if you occupy 10% of the rentable space, but consume 30% of the energy, you may be able to learn from other building tenants how to conserve energy or be able to find easy solutions to reducing energy use. 

  • Track your energy use. If you are able to measure the energy consumption within your space, you can make use of ENERGY STAR Tenant Space, which is designed specifically to help commercial building tenants. Tracking energy use in the platform also allows tenants that meet certain energy efficiency requirements the opportunity to become “certified” and showcase market leadership. 

  • Reduce your energy use. There are a multitude of strategies that can be implemented to reduce energy use. Some are simple, requiring no coordination with your landlord; others will require conversations with the landlord to implement, depending on your lease.

  • Options you can likely implement without landlord coordination include:

    • Adjust office equipment sleep settings to power down equipment when not in use.

    • Turn off the lights when they are not in use or when natural daylight is sufficient.  

    • Ensure that areas in front of vents are clear to prevent disruption to air distribution.

    • Monitor and control plug loads by installing smart power strips.

    • Develop organizational policies that reduce energy from plug loads, such as limiting or eliminating the use of personal appliances in workspaces such as space heaters or refrigerators, which may offer marginal comfort but can use a growing proportion of electricity if left unchecked.

    • Look for high-efficiency equipment or appliances when it comes time to purchase or replace existing ones.

    • Engage employees by educating them on energy efficiency and share with them your energy use over time. 

    • Talk to your property manager and discuss specific options to improve the efficiency of your space. 

  • Options that may require coordination with the landlord or property manager include:

    • Ask the landlord if they have developed a strategic energy plan to understand how your space, and its potential upgrades, might factor in to the bigger picture.

    • Adjust the temperature and humidity set points of your thermostats and ensure they have consistent settings to avoid conflicting with each other.

    • Check mechanical equipment schedules and settings to ensure they are powering down when your space is not in use.

    • Conduct a nighttime audit by walking your space during off hours to see what equipment or systems are on and using energy when it’s unnecessary.

    • Change the air filters during appropriate intervals (e.g. monthly or seasonally) as required. Dirty filters not only increase energy consumption, but also result in lower indoor air quality.

    • Repair damaged duct insulation and/or look for duct leakages. This may also reduce noise or condensation within your space.

    • Hire an energy services professional to conduct an energy audit of your space to help identify specific options that are most appropriate. 

  • Capital cost investment options can include:

    • Switch inefficient lighting fixtures for new, high-efficiency ones. This can have an especially quick return on investment. 

    • Install occupancy and daylighting sensors and controls that can automatically turn lights on or off and dim based on available sunlight. 

    • Understand which equipment consumes the most energy and control which outlets stay on during unoccupied periods.

    • Have the mechanical system balanced to ensure that air distribution is even across your space.

This resource is based upon content originally developed by the Institute for Market Transformation in collaboration with Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) for the Building Innovation Hub, with funding and support provided by the District of Columbia’s Department of Energy & Environment.

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