Energy efficiency makes so much sense that it rarely finds champions in political circles.

But outside the Beltway, in cities and states across the U.S., energy benchmarking and disclosure laws for commercial buildings are driving efficiency gains that produce savings that are substantial enough that they should make people sit up and notice. 

In the most recent report of data trends from Energy Star Portfolio Manager, which most buildings use to benchmark energy use, 35,000 buildings saved 7 percent over a three-year period. 

For buildings that started with below-average energy efficiency scores, they saved more than twice the energy of those above average. The majority of buildings -- 90 percent -- saved between 0 and 10 percent annually.

“These findings show the power of information,” Cliff Majersik, Executive Director of the Institute for Market Transformation, said in a statement. “Energy Star benchmarking is a powerful tool to guide and motivate building improvements to cut waste and save big money. In fact, a recent survey showed that more than 60 percent of building operators who benchmark use benchmarking to decide where to invest their resources and to make the business case for those investments.” 

With the country still suffering from high unemployment rates and a slow economic recovery, one of the most interesting findings is that if the trend continues through 2020, there could be a total savings of 25 percent in energy per building.

The EPA snapshot did not look into how buildings are saving energy, but the trends “suggest that slow and steady improvements over time are typical of buildings that consistently track and benchmark energy consumption,” the report stated. 

Improvements could be low- or no-cost, even just starting with reducing waste. “No matter the building type, organizations across the country are using EPA's Energy Star Portfolio Manager to demonstrate that you can't manage what you don't measure," Jean Lupinacci, Chief of the Energy Star Commercial & Industrial Branch, said in a statement. 

The savings were highest for retail, offices, warehouses and K-12 schools, with hotels and hospitals realizing the lowest savings. The EPA found that for an 800,000 sq. ft. school district, the cumulative energy savings of $140,000 over three years would be an average salary for 1.2 teachers. 

In New York City, the first city to make the benchmarking data public, benchmarking scores are already informing the city’s operations and maintenance programs for its own buildings. A new program that reviews energy efficiency operations and maintenance, and has nothing to do with retrofits, is expected to cut citywide energy use 10 percent to 15 percent per year, a cost savings of at least $51 million. 

Benchmarking, whether mandatory or voluntary, is bringing scores of new players to the market. Melon Power, for instance, offers a low-cost service to produce an EPA score. Noesis gives away energy monitoring for free with the hopes of selling upgraded services as buildings look for more significant savings. 

Companies like Retroficiency, SCIEnergySkyFoundry and BuildingIQ all have offerings for companies that want to go a step further and dive into retrofits.

It’s still early days for benchmarking laws in the U.S., so the EPA figures could look very different in just two or three years, especially as low-performance buildings are forced to comply in large cities. And if all buildings in the U.S. followed a similar trend, IMT calculated that would save $4.2 billion in just the first year.