The commercial building sector is extremely diverse, including office buildings, warehouses, schools, restaurants, health care facilities, and hotels to name a few. Together, they consume approximately 20% of total U.S. energy consumption.

Despite the popular image of a skyscraper, most commercial buildings are not that big – in fact, the vast majority are small and medium-sized, or under 100,000 square feet. However, these small and medium-sized buildings can be slow to take up energy efficiency opportunities that improve performance, increase occupant comfort, and save energy. While large buildings typically have larger financial and human resources to allocate on energy management, small and medium buildings often need specialized tools to help them easily and cost-effectively implement energy efficient strategies. A 2015 National Buildings Institute report found that investing in small building energy efficiency retrofits could result in more than 400,000 jobs and help enhance small business resilience and the security of the U.S. electric grid.

DOE’s Building Technologies Office (BTO) worked with the 2030 Districts program to develop customized toolkits that help small and medium-sized commercial building owners across the United States access targeted resources that minimized risk while maximizing energy savings.


Launched by Architecture 2030, the 2030 Districts program focuses on supporting major metropolitan areas in their endeavors to work toward the ambitious goal of advancing resilient, energy efficient planning and design. Each district is made up of partnerships between private and public entities in urban areas, bringing together property owners and managers, local governments, businesses, and community stakeholders to improve the performance of the built environment. The private sector has stepped up as a champion for the districts by uniting invested parties around a shared vision for sustainability and economic growth, while committing to the reduction of energy and water waste within commercial cores.

In 2013, BTO awarded Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and 2030 Districts program $2 million in funding and technical assistance through the Commercial Energy Efficiency Solutions funding opportunity, with the goal of developing resources to help implement energy efficiency measure for small buildings. This technical toolkit was to be customized for the small buildings sector to address distinct issues with the implementation of energy efficiency strategies, including persistent market barriers such as the lack of resources and access to affordable technical expertise from architects, engineers, and other energy industry professionals, as well as the high cost of existing efficiency tools and services.

LBNL and its partners integrated new and existing technical tools to provide small buildings with the ability to analyze and evaluate measures for heating, ventilation, and air condition (HVAC) equipment and lighting, a “plug-load” assessment tool for interior equipment like office equipment and computers, and a whole-building retrofit tool. With more than 60% of energy used in small and medium sized commercial buildings consumed by HVAC equipment, lighting, and plug-loads, these tools could significantly help to reduce energy consumption and costs for building owners and occupants.


Initially piloted by the Seattle and Pittsburgh districts, these technical tools were demonstrated across 50 projects, facilitating the assessment of cost-efficient strategies to save energy and optimize available resources. Twenty sites reported sufficiently robust data to enable measurement and verification analysis on their pre- and post-retrofit electricity and natural gas consumption. Many of the sites demonstrated substantial energy savings in line with their estimated savings amounts, with about half of the projects achieved savings at, or near, the 20% savings level. Several others found even more significant savings while using the DOE-developed tools, including:

  • Seattle 2030 District’s East Pike project: This 22,866-square-foot property implemented a whole building lighting retrofit and achieved energy savings of 28%, with its realized savings of 39,058 kilowatt-hours more than doubling what it was projected to save.
  • Pittsburgh 2030 District’s 900 Penn project: This whole building lighting retrofit of 30,000 square feet achieved energy savings of 46%.
  • San Jose 2030 District’s City of Berkeley Animal Shelter: This 11,700-square-foot property conducted a whole building retrofit and achieved 41% energy savings and 24% natural gas savings, with total savings of 30%.

Earlier in 2016, during the annual 2030 Districts Network Summit held in Toronto, 18 districts showcased how they were using or leveraging the toolkit and highlighted other strategies and resources being used to achieve their respective goals for reductions in energy, water, and transportation use, as well as their overall 2030 Challenge commitment. The summit also saw the official launch of two additional districts: Portland, Maine and Austin, Texas.


The success of the 2030 Districts program’s small commercial building focus has resulted in leaders across districts to consider implementation of similar programs within their jurisdictions. Ithaca, New York, a district predominantly composed of small commercial projects, has received funding from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to launch a New York-focused small commercial program to develop additional toolkits to address market barriers.

Having exceeded its target of 25-40 demonstration sites, with more than 50 sites committed to implementing its tools, 2030 Districts has excelled at tapping industry leadership to engage with committed districts, conducting trainings on technical tools, and actively pursuing creation of new districts. 

<h5>Project Partners</h5><ul><li>Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory</li><li>Architecture 2030</li><li>2030 Districts: Cleveland, OH; Seattle, WA; San Jose, CA; and Pittsburgh, PA</li><li>Emerging 2030 Districts: Ann Arbor, MI; Detroit, MI; San Antonio, TX; Ithaca, NY; Portland, OR; and Grand Rapids, MI</li><li>Arizona State University</li></ul><h5>Applications</h5><p>The toolkit integrates new and existing technical tools that give small and medium commercial buildings the ability to analyze and evaluate measures for HVAC equipment, interior equipment, lighting and/or whole building measures.</p><h5>Benefits</h5><ul><li>Toolkit enables small commercial buildings to save 20% on their energy bill</li><li>Several demonstration projects saved significantly more &ndash; up to 46%!</li></ul><h5>Contact Information</h5><p><a href="">Priya Swamy</a><br />&nbsp;</p><h5>DOE Funding</h5><ul><li>$2,000,000, with a $2,000,000 cost share</li></ul><h5>Additional Resources</h5><ul><li><a href="">2030 Districts Toolkits</a></li></ul>