100 Associations

Sustainability: Benchmarks for Water and Waste

By / Aug 12, 2020 (David Arky/Getty Images)

BOMA’s Waste and Water Challenge, which promotes an EPA program to reduce waste and water usage in commercial buildings, collected data on more than 2,000 buildings in its first year.

Sustainability • BOMA International

For Building Owners and Managers Association International, which represents the commercial real-estate community, sustainability issues and advocacy issues are closely woven. As green building programs such as LEED began to gain attention and more cities initiated eco-friendly regulations, BOMA International looked for opportunities to promote green programs itself.

“Over the past 15 years, a lot of [conversation] revolved around green buildings and it tipped the market,” says John Bryant, vice president of advocacy and building codes at BOMA International.

Not that sustainability was a new concept for the association. For a century, it’s maintained the Experience Exchange Report, an annual benchmarking study that tracks buildings’ energy use, among other metrics. And it’s had a longstanding partnership with the EPA’s Energy Star program, which promotes responsible energy usage. So two years ago, after Energy Star introduced a tool to help building managers better monitor waste and water, the association stepped in to help promote it.

The Water and Waste Challenge, launched in 2018, gave members guidance on data-gathering and benchmarking—and offered incentives to take part. Participants who submitted their data to Energy Star were given reports, resources, and recognition opportunities. In the program’s first year, participants submitted data from more than 2,000 buildings in the United States, encompassing more than 300 cities and 400 million square feet of office space.

We were incredibly surprised when almost immediately we had 2,000 buildings around the country sign up.

“When we were originally talking to EPA, they asked what success would look like, and we all agreed that a couple hundred buildings would be a great start to help them get the program off the ground,” Bryant says. “So we were incredibly surprised when almost immediately we had 2,000 buildings around the country sign up.”

BOMA International built a suite of programming around the Challenge, including webinars and direct assistance. Though originally established as a two-year program, it’s gathered enough enthusiasm that other organizations are looking to continue it.

“We’ve had some people reach out to us that have just really loved the program and asked if it’s something that potentially they could take over or use a different version, or maybe we could help them start their own programs,” Bryant says.

The Water and Waste Challenge serves broad sustainability goals. But it also helps bolster one of BOMA International’s advocacy objectives, which is to preserve Energy Star as a free and voluntary program. In 2018, the White House proposed eliminating Energy Star as it is currently structured and replacing it with a fee-based program. Responding on Capitol Hill, BOMA International used the Challenge as one example of how voluntary efforts by building owners can make meaningful progress on sustainability.

When the White House zeroed out Energy Star in its 2018 budget, Bryant says, “that was probably our biggest lobbying activation. All of our members immediately reached out to Congress, and we started an advocacy campaign to make sure that it was included in the fiscal year appropriations. And every year since then, it’s been included in everything Congress has passed. But every time we see a new administrative budget proposal, we see different changes to the program. So we’ve been doing everything we can to keep supporting it.”

Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. More »

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