Waste Tracking: Now Available to Building Owners and Managers

The EPA’s Energy Star program has added the capability to track waste and material use with the same ease of tracking energy and water use.

by Jean Lupinacci / January 6, 2017
A bulldozer spreads out mounds of waste at a landfill. Flickr/Wisconsin Deprtment of Natural Resourcecs

Welcome to the age of benchmarking. From Fitbits to utility bills, we have the ability to track performance in every aspect of our lives.

More than 15 years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) led the way for businesses and organizations to measure how much energy was used in their facilities. Next came water use benchmarking. Now, the EPA’s ENERGY STAR program has added the capability to track waste and material use with the same ease of tracking energy and water use. This convenient tool will make 2017 the year that organizations, businesses and governments take waste tracking from a trailblazing effort to standard operating procedure.

A new resource to improve efficiency and operations

In August, we officially launched the EPA’s new Portfolio Manager waste tracking tool to help users support their building’s efficiency. As organizations create new waste reduction goals, these new benchmarking results will show successes and room for improvement. The new waste and materials tracking capabilities in Portfolio Manager elevate the platform to an energy, water and waste “tracking trifecta.”

With commercial and industrial buildings contributing 45 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, there are always more opportunities to reduce the impact of our nation’s buildings. These same facilities are also responsible for nearly half of the 150 million tons of waste that wind up in incinerators or landfills each year. This waste poses environmental and health risks, and commercial buildings offer a great opportunity to reduce impact.

Benchmarking started with tracking energy and water

We have already seen the success of benchmarking in action. For more than 20 years, facility managers and city leaders have turned to the EPA’s ENERGY STAR Commercial & Industrial Program for guidance to save money and support the environment. In 2000, the EPA created Portfolio Manager to help building owners and managers improve their buildings’ energy consumption without sacrificing all of their time and resources.

The platform revolutionized the way that building energy use is tracked across the country. It gave users the opportunity to submit and maintain their data in one easy-to-use platform. Now, more than 450,000 buildings benchmark their energy use in Portfolio Manager, making it the most-used energy and water management tool for commercial buildings.

Inspiring examples of successful waste reduction

We know that waste tracking can achieve the same levels of success thanks to the savings reported from many industry leaders. To give some examples: In 2013, Pepsi reported $3 million in landfill costs while increasing revenue from recyclable and reusable materials. General Motors reports generating $1 billion in revenue each year through its recycling program. Toyota reported $1.3 million in net savings from waste management, largely due to its use of reusable packaging, which has saved wood and cardboard equivalent to more than 2.3 million trees.

Cities across the country are also leading efforts to actively reduce building waste. These leaders include Portland, Ore., with its Green Building Resolution, composed of specific criteria for recycling, water conservation and onsite power generation for city projects; and Boulder County, Colo., for its mandatory BuildSmart green building program, with a focus on reusing and recycling construction materials in all new residential construction. We’re confident that adding waste tracking to Portfolio Manager will make these examples more commonplace and spur similar trends in businesses and municipalities across the nation.

Tracking energy, water and waste is the first step toward saving resources and prioritizing upgrades to improve a building’s performance. Commercial and industrial building managers can use the “tracking trifecta” to meet their goals for reduced environmental and financial impacts while propelling their cities toward energy-efficiency success. I look forward to seeing how our local policymakers, government leaders and facility managers use Portfolio Manager to reach new heights in building efficiency.

Jean Lupinacci is the director of the ENERGY STAR Commercial & Industrial Branch at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.