Best Practice

GreenStep City Best Practices: Buildings and Lighting
Efficient Existing Public Buildings {BP No. 1}

Benchmark energy and water usage, identify savings opportunities in consultation with state programs, utilities and others to implement cost-effective energy and sustainability improvements.

Step 3 Recognition Best Practice for Category A and B cities

Category A cities: implement this best practice by completing actions 1 and 2 and one additional action. 

Category B cities: implement this best practice by completing actions 1 and 2. 

Category C cities: implement this best practice by completing any one action.

Step 4 Recognition Metric for Category A, B and C cities


In city buildings the owner is also likely going to be the tenant for all of the building's life; all cost savings from careful asset management and short and long-term efficiency investments will accrue to the city and its taxpayers. In such a circumstance, energy and water efficiency opportunities are almost always justified on a purely economic basis, even without considering the benefits from reducing greenhouse gases, lowering exposure to fuel price volatility, or meeting sustainability goals. Most existing public buildings were not designed to use energy and water efficiently, and even those that are designed well are infrequently managed to capture efficiency opportunities. Energy efficiency and other sustainability opportunities abound in existing buildings, which are in a constant drift toward expensive inefficiency. Many of the opportunities not only reduce operating costs, but improve occupant quality of life, create higher resale value, and improve worker productivity.

Greenstep Advisor

Best Practice Advisor Photo

Peter Lindstrom, Local Government Outreach Coordinator, Clean Energy Resource Teams: 612/625-9634,,

Connection to State Policy

  • All public buildings are required by the State of Minnesota to enter energy consumption data into the B3 database. The database allows public entities to compare sq. ft. energy use among all buildings in a locale, and among the same type of building across Minnesota. This makes it possible to target the most cost-effective energy improvements to the lowest-performing buildings.
  • The state agency goal for reducing energy use per sq. foot in state buildings is a 30% reduction by 2027 relative to a 2017 baseline. A 3% annual reduction in city operations energy use is consistent with this state agency operations goal.
  • The state agency goal for reducing water consumption in state buildings is a 15% reduction of water use by 2025 relative to a 2017 baseline. A 1.5% annual reduction in city operations water use is consistent with this state agency operations goal.
  • In 2011 the State Commissioner of Commerce created under Executive Order the Guaranteed Energy Savings Program (GESP) to provide technical and financial resources to state agencies, local units of government, and school districts. Cities can access GESP through a voluntary Joint Powers Agreement with the Minnesota Department of Commerce.


Major Benefit

  • Operations and maintenance experts claim a minimum 5-10% efficiency improvement is achievable in virtually any building by implementing certain low- and no-cost measures. Reports from GreenStep cities using the State of Minnesota's free Buildings, Benchmarks and Beyond (B3) energy performance database confirm this, and confirm that such savings can be used to fund the city staff person responsible for producing the savings. According to Honeywell, Inc., without monitoring and maintenance, the efficiency performance of building systems and equipment can degrade by as much as 5% every year. And the EPA estimates that if the energy efficiency of commercial and industrial buildings improved by just 10%, Americans would save about $20 billion annually and reduce greenhouse gas emissions equal to the emissions from almost 30 million vehicles.
  • Investments in buildings can produce immediate economic impact, as most of the money is spent on labor costs for workers who tend to spend this money locally and increase its multiplier effect: $1 million spent on retrofits creates between 8 and 11 jobs and generates about $300,000 in taxes, according to estimates.
  • The State’s Guaranteed Energy Savings Program (GESP) can assist cities bundle low-cost, short-term payback improvements (lighting, highly efficient motors, building envelope improvements) with longer-term payback improvements (LED lighting, HVAC systems, steam/chiller conversions, co-generation systems, wastewater treatment facilities, ice arenas, renewable energy systems) to achieve deep energy retrofits where the aggregated payback does not exceed 15 years. The improvements (to existing facilities or to facilities to be built) – which require no capital contribution from a city - are paid for over the term of the financing arrangement using a combination of utility savings, operational and maintenance savings, and/or capital cost avoidance savings.
  • According to research by the Acadia Center, all the money that government agencies, utility companies, and others are spending on efficiency programs not only saves energy, it pumps cash back into the economy - from $6 to $8.50 for every $1 spent.
  • The use of one green building framework, Sustainable Buildings 2030, is required for all Minnesota state-funded projects that begin schematic design after January 1, 2015. It will result in buildings that achieve an energy and carbon reduction of 70% compared to representative Minnesota buildings in existence in 2003.