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2012 Portfolio Energy RetroFit Challenge

"Better Buildings Means Better Business"

High performance buildings are an indicator of a high performance corporation, so better buildings means better business. Retrofitting buildings for high performance lowers operating costs to improve the bottom line and in many cases it can do much more, even if buildings are not the focus of the corporation. Many true stories of deep retrofits have demonstrated such value, including the now famously “green” Empire State Building.

How does building energy efficiency compete with, or enhance, primary business interests? We think the scale of a building portfolio provides unique opportunities for broader, faster, and deeper improvements with attractive cost savings, and we are looking for six portfolio partners to help us test our theories and prove that to the world.

The Problem

Many building portfolio owners save energy in buildings by replacing individual equipment and components with more efficient products, but they’re leaving savings on the table. Owners can achieve deeper savings, but it may seem daunting to figure out how to do that across a broad portfolio. For many building owners, energy management is a complication, another factor to juggle when dividing limited capital and resources between pressing concerns like corporate growth, code compliance, facility consolidation, and other upgrades and renovations across multiple locations. Traditional management practices don’t normally include energy planning. An additional part of the problem is technical: owners don’t know what’s possible in their buildings.

  • How low can building energy use go?
  • What reduction goals are both bold and achievable?
  • What’s the best way to phase improvements across many buildings?
  • How should owners prioritize?

RMI is working toward a scalable approach for transitioning to very low energy buildings across all building portfolios, one that saves costs and maximizes total real estate asset value. Leveraging 30 years of experience in integrative problem solving in energy, we are partnering with leading portfolio owners to develop a radically new approach to move U.S. buildings toward a brighter energy future.

Empowering the Larger Commercial Building Industry

Seventy-five percent of global electricity goes to buildings, and at least half of that is wasted. We want to reduce building energy use by 50 percent by 2050. We believe that building owners can lead the way to meeting this goal and significantly reducing global carbon emissions while improving their bottom line. During the Challenge, RMI is testing a number of approaches for accelerating building energy efficiency to result in more effective, and more implementable, portfolio energy strategies. Our portfolio partners will help lead other building owners in changing the way we all use energy. Lessons gleaned from the Challenge will inform RMI’s own publications and educational outreach, providing a foundation for larger scale implementation projects that demonstrate the vision of Reinventing Fire.

Be Part of the Solution

As many of our collaborators have discovered, energy management can be a valuable differentiator in a company’s core business. For these partners, energy is not an add-on to real estate strategy. It’s a key variable around which they plan their capital and operations and maintenance budgets, because they realize that energy use can play a formative role in the value of their real estate portfolio. And the benefits can go far beyond energy cost savings.

In the Challenge, we are addressing two critical questions portfolio owners face:

  • How can I comprehensively develop solutions that will transition my buildings from liabilities into high performance assets?
  • How should I time these improvements across multiple buildings while balancing my other business and real estate concerns?

RMI plans to engage six owner-occupied building portfolios (three office and three retail) to research and develop a scalable approach for addressing these questions. Our methods are based on integrative design practices, streamlined whole-building analysis, right-timed improvements, and data-driven, customized energy goals.

How to Become a Portfolio Partner:

We evaluate inquiries on a rolling admission basis. Please direct letters of interest or questions to Elaine Gallagher Adams or Coreina Chan, (303) 245-1003.

Challenge Participant Benefits:

  • Gain in-house expertise on new ways to approach and manage deep energy efficiency strategies across your portfolio.
  • Set informed portfolio energy goals based on energy and financial analysis.
  • Develop an approach for portfolio-level screening and analysis to identify high-priority efficiency projects.
  • Empower your company to engage energy service providers to deliver greater energy and cost savings.
  • Leverage RMI’s dedicated communications staff to help share your success stories with the world.
  • Access a peer network for guidance in important efforts such as: occupant engagement, green leasing, branding, tenant attraction and retention.
  • Set your company apart as an industry leader and research collaborator toward broad market transformation in building energy management.

Participant Qualifications:

  • Partner must own or be the primary manager for at least 100 buildings, either Office or Retail, which are individually metered.
  • Partner portfolio must include some archetypal buildings that share similar characteristics such as: use, envelope type, construction type, relative size, mechanical system.
  • Partner must demonstrate a track record of commitment to sustainability initiatives and building energy efficiency.
  • Partner must commit to, and participate in, sharing outcomes, lessons learned, and case studies with the broader public. (We will not share sensitive data.)
  • Partner must dedicate an effective point of contact with decision-making authority to interface with the RMI team, and provide data in a timely manner.
  • Partner must participate in a post-Challenge networking group with other participants for one year to share best practices, tools, strategy adjustments, and discoveries.

RMI Approach

  • Streamline whole-building analysis
    Quickly and comprehensively understand how different building systems interact to reap the largest savings across many buildings
  • Establish Parallel Paths
    Improve policy and processes to significantly reduce energy, create bundles of cross-cutting energy efficiency, conservation, and renewable energy measures, execute on right timing indicators for deep energy retrofits, and pursue innovation.
  • Tunneling through the cost barrier
    In some instances, targeting deeper savings can significantly reduce costs by eliminating entire systems or costly components.
  • Determine the technical potential
    Set aggressive, long-term energy goals based on understanding what is technically possible.
  • Develop a sound base case
    Understand and evaluate the true costs of business-as usual.

Length of Engagement

Each partner engagement is expected to last 10-12 weeks. In addition, we ask each partner to participate for a one-year minimum in a post-Challenge networking group for sharing implementation stories and lessons learned.


RMI will organize each intensive partner engagement into the following work streams:

The partner shares relevant corporate building management protocol and processes, including: O&M budget policies, approach to maintenance and retrofits, key decision-making processes and triggers for capital budget improvements. We obtain portfolio energy data and run through initial analyses. This gives us a working understanding of our partner’s current portfolio performance, energy strategy, and organizational structure. We then calculate the cost of business-as-usual to help you build your business case for portfolio energy improvements.

RMI works with our partner to identify a subset of their portfolio to use as a test ground for an efficiency (and perhaps renewable energy) rollout strategy. The identified subset may be a group of similarly constructed, archetypal buildings (as often found in office holdings), or it may be an actual prototype design (as found in many retail portfolios). Subset buildings will typically have similar space use, mechanical systems, envelope construction types, and be similarly sized.

RMI works with our Challenge partners to identify a logical representative building for study within the portfolio subset. RMI conducts an audit of that building and constructs a corresponding representative energy efficiency analysis (testing various tools for rapid analysis). During this phase, we will also delve into institutional motivations and decision-making processes that catalyze and/or prevent deeper and broader energy savings.

RMI then leads a technical potential exercise to explore all barriers and opportunities – technical, institutional, and interactive. This exercise helps determine the minimum amount of energy a building, and ultimately a portfolio, can use given market-available technology, operational and behavior changes, and the buildings’ basic characteristics – excluding renewable energy. Partners will develop working experience in technical potential benchmarking so they can lead future investigation on the remainder of their portfolios and continue to aggressively manage energy analysis whether in-house or with an external energy service provider or Energy Service Company (ESCO).

Once we have established the technical potential energy savings in the representative building and identified institutional opportunities, we will map optimized packages of energy efficiency measures to roll out across many buildings and recommend strategic timing for deep retrofits. This will reveal total potential energy cost savings for those buildings and seed a strategy for energy management across the broader portfolio. A strategy for scheduling and right-timing retrofits on a per-building basis will take advantage of expenditures already planned for needed replacements and future renovations.

Empowering partners

Our Challenge partners and donors play a key role in this industry-changing study that will bring to light the benefits and key success factors in managing portfolio energy use. RMI will train key partner personnel in this approach so that they may better address the remainder of their own portfolios and join RMI in outreach and education events – teaching others how to see big opportunities in big portfolios and that better buildings mean better business. Additionally, each Challenge partner is asked to participate in a working group with other partners to share ideas and lessons learned for a year following the engagement.


Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) is an independent, entrepreneurial, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. We drive the efficient and restorative use of resources to make the world secure, just, prosperous, and life sustaining.

This Challenge is a project within the RMI’s RetroFit Initiative, an effort focused on accelerating deep energy savings in the nation’s existing commercial building stock.

Special thanks to our friends at NAIOP, BOMA, and USGBC for assisting with communications efforts.