Commentary: Energy transparency ordinance will benefit our economy and health

Salt Lake City Municipal Corporation is rapidly emerging as a national and global leader in improving air quality, addressing climate change and promoting clean energy. As businesses with a global reach and local Salt Lake City offices, we believe the city’s leadership is vital to attracting business to our city and state in a competitive global marketplace. Innovative energy efficiency policy is a cornerstone of this success.

To this end, we strongly support Salt Lake City’s proposed “energy transparency” ordinance designed to improve the energy efficiency of our city’s large commercial buildings. This ordinance contains a market-based strategy that will provide information about the energy performance of our commercial buildings, and will create opportunities for buildings to reduce energy waste. The proposed ordinance is a straightforward solution that will result in significant benefits for residents and businesses alike. In cities that have similar policies in place, 73 to 99 percent of large buildings have adopted the required practices in the first two years. With such a high compliance rate in other cities, we anticipate we will see a similar response here.

For the market to function properly and efficiently, businesses need access to energy utilization information to make data-driven decisions. “You can’t manage what you don’t measure” is a business adage that applies directly to this issue. When buying a car, we can (and should) consider the car’s fuel efficiency and smog rating before making a purchase. However, it is much more difficult for businesses in Salt Lake City to learn how much energy a prospective building uses, before entering into a building lease or purchase. The proposed Salt Lake City ordinance addresses this through an energy consumption tracking component (known as “benchmarking”), made easy through the free online Energy Star Portfolio Manager tool, and a related energy transparency element that will fill this information gap.

The proposed ordinance empowers businesses to easily identify the energy efficient buildings in the Salt Lake City market when shopping for office space and, therefore, to make smarter, more informed business decisions before moving in. Importantly, the policy relies on market forces to improve energy efficiency, leaving the decision to invest in energy improvements up to building owners and operators. Notably, 24 other American cities as well as numerous countries have already proven this as a successful strategy and data show that it helps reduce city-wide energy consumption. Adopting this ordinance will position the city to attract businesses and compete in the global marketplace.

Equally important are the positive benefits this ordinance brings to all who call Salt Lake City home. You may be surprised to learn that our restaurants, stores, homes and large commercial buildings contribute a growing percentage of our local air pollution on a typical winter day. While vehicles and industry cause the majority of our pollution, all sectors play a role. According to the Utah Division of Air Quality, emissions from commercial buildings alone account for nearly six tons of nitrogen oxides emitted on a typical winter day. Moreover, buildings that track their energy consumption often discover that they can cut their energy consumption by 20 to 30 percent. Reducing energy consumption not only improves businesses’ bottom line, but also immediately reduces pollution.

As business leaders, we support Salt Lake City’s energy transparency ordinance as a simple and effective policy. It is a sensible and important step in the right direction for Utah businesses and for our community. Improving air quality must be one of our most important goals, and we must take a variety of actions to achieve it. We commend the Salt Lake City Council and Mayor Biskupski for collaborating on this ordinance and urge the Council to vote in favor of its adoption.

Robert Best is an executive vice president, leading energy and sustainability services at Jones Lang LaSalle. Bob.Best@am.jll.com Jonathan M. Ruga is the CEO of Sentry Financial, a financial services company involved in, among other things, real estate development and ownership in Utah and surrounding states. jruga@sentryfinancial.com