Commercial Real Estate

Using energy efficiency to create competitive advantage in commercial real estate market.

From 2007–2019, the alliance’s Commercial Real Estate (CRE) initiative engaged the Northwest’s commercial real estate market—specifically, property management firms holding portfolios of office, warehouse and big box retail buildings—to adopt a broad range of energy efficiency best practices. By working with key market partners, the CRE initiative effectively demonstrated how energy efficiency can create a competitive advantage for an existing building or portfolio in the commercial real estate market.


In 2012, NEEA conducted market research that identified key barriers holding back decision-makers in the commercial real estate market from incorporating energy efficiency best practices into business plans, building operations and budgets. These barriers included an overwhelming amount of information, lack of trust in information sources, and a perceived high first-cost. Additionally, with numerous pressing concerns including managing costs, tenant retention and constant building maintenance, many real estate professionals and building owners simply did not have the time to find and implement energy efficiency solutions.


Working closely with property managers, building owners and hard-to-reach executives, the CRE initiative focused on demonstrating the robust business case for energy efficiency including decreased costs, improved comfort and tenant retention, and increased building value. Large property management firms often operate across multiple utility territories, allowing the initiative to develop several projects for multiple utilities through one single contact person. 

To effectively convey the benefits of energy efficiency, the initiative provided a host of resources including tools, trainings, best practices and market engagement strategies. Among the tools created was Spark, an online assessment tool that estimates energy savings and real estate returns for deep energy retrofit projects. 

Beyond helping building owners save energy, the CRE initiative found ways to add further value by motivating them to leverage energy efficiency to increase their competitiveness. This included the Market Partner Program (MPP), which used organizational coaching to showcase the wide benefits of strategic energy management (SEM)—a system of organizational practices, policies and processes that permanently embeds long-term energy management into business operations. The MPP guided leading commercial real estate firms to integrate SEM practices into their business operations and capitalize on the benefits. The initiative also helped to organize and implement the Kilowatt Crackdown energy efficiency competition, which challenged large portfolio management firms to reduce energy consumption and adopt energy management as their standard practice. 

Additionally, the initiative provided support to The City of Portland’s Commercial Building Energy Reporting ordinance and contributed resources and funding to support the launch of local engagement programs in collaboration with Energy Trust of Oregon. And, the initiative worked through the University of Washington's Integrated Design Lab to offer the Spark tool and technical support to owners planning deep retrofits under the City of Seattle's Building Tune-Up Accelerator program. Participants additionally received cash incentives from Seattle City Light.

In addition to helping over 100 Seattle buildings save energy and meeting city climate and energy policies, the building tune-up accelerator program really got building owners thinking about where and how their building's energy is used. It was a great way to set them on the path for continued energy savings and performance.

- Nicole Ballinger
Program Manager, City of Seattle Office of Susatinability & Environment


From 2007–2019, these efforts helped make energy efficiency a lasting part of the Northwest’s commercial real estate market. Through interventions, the initiative team developed valuable relationships with hard-to-reach, executive-level
decision-makers and their member organizations, such as BOMA Oregon and Seattle 2030. These important relationships are now maintained through the alliance’s BetterBricks platform, a centralized online resource library for commercial
building professionals. BetterBricks continues to support the market and build relationships as a trusted resource for valuable tools and materials, including those initially developed for the CRE initiative.