Using office energy data to calculate emissions

March 27, 2023

How to gather office-based energy data, even without access to a utility bill.

modern office in black and white

For most organizations, understanding emissions from purchased energy is as simple as pulling information from utility bills into your greenhouse gas emissions inventory.

But what if, as a tenant, you do not receive a utility bill for your organization’s office space?

Many lease agreements are structured in such a way that the tenant never receives a utility bill. Sometimes, the property manager may prefer to pay the utility bill and incorporate that cost into your monthly rent. Or the property manager may not have insight into your specific office space due to how the building was originally metered—there could be a single meter for the whole building or multiple meters per floor.  

In theory, these situations can make it a little harder to understand emissions from purchased energy. Fortunately, there are several ways to obtain, or at least estimate, information about energy use in an office space if you know where to go and what to do.

In this post, we’ll walk you through the hierarchy of sources and methodology to get your office energy use data:

1. Utility bills – The preferred and most accurate source of energy use because energy consumption is the most precise measure of GHG emissions—it’s listed right on your bill. (kWh for electricity use and thousands of cubic feet [MCF], hundreds of cubic feet [CCF], therms, or other less common units of measure for natural gas.)

2. Office lease agreement (proration) – When utility bills are not paid directly by the tenant, the office lease agreement will outline how energy consumption is handled and provide valuable insight.

3. Property owner/manager (proration) – The property team will be able to provide you with additional information needed to determine your energy consumption. This could be space energy consumption, whole building energy consumption, or whole building area to approximate energy consumption.

4. Organization-specific metrics – If your organization has several offices with reported utility data, you can create an internal energy usage intensity (EUI) metric to apply to facilities where energy use data is unobtainable.

5. Industry benchmarks – When the property manager is unwilling or unable to help, estimate office energy consumption by multiplying your leased office area with an appropriate EUI benchmark (i.e., kWh per sqft) like those published by the Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS).

How to prevent a material underreporting

Before diving into these methods, it’s important to note that it’s best practice to include all emissions-generating activities in your organization’s GHG inventory to prevent a material underreporting. By leaving out significant energy sources of your organization’s emissions because the data is too challenging to gather, it becomes more difficult to track any reductions in emissions you have worked so hard to institute. Even if it requires some estimations to form a complete inventory, it is worth ensuring each emissions-generating activity and source is fully accounted for.  

Estimating difficult-to-obtain data should only be used as a temporary solution. Both the Greenhouse Gas Protocol and Science Based Targets Initiative adhere to five core principles for GHG accounting: relevance, completeness, consistency, transparency, and accuracy. Both organizations address improving reported data coverage explicitly in relation to “completeness” and “accuracy.” So, while estimating some emissions can provide a temporary fix for your GHG inventory, improving reported data over time is vital.

How to obtain your office energy use data

Utility bills

Simply put, if you directly pay your utility bill, then you have direct access to your energy data. You can accurately apply the appropriate emissions factors based on energy type and location on your own, or use a tool like Sustain.Life.

Office lease agreement (proration)

The second option is to review your existing lease agreement. If the property manager handles your energy use, they will outline how to handle the expense. While not common, your office space’s energy consumption could be a prorated share of the whole building’s energy consumption, making the task as simple as asking the property manager for total building energy consumption or at least your share. At the very least, this step will give you a better understanding of how energy is handled in your building before you move to the next option.

Property owner/manager (proration)

The third option is to reach out to the property manager directly and see if they have access to energy consumption information. If the building is metered appropriately, the property team may be able to pull your specific utility data to help. If there is only one meter for the whole building, prorate your energy usage as you would in the previous option.  

What if the property manager is unwilling or unable to help? Fortunately, you still have two options: Estimate missing data by developing an internal energy usage intensity (EUI) or use industry benchmarks.

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Organization-specific metrics

Suppose your organization has a number of similar-use offices with reported utility data. In that case, create an internal energy usage intensity (EUI) metric to apply to those offices with missing data.

Calculate your EIU by dividing energy consumption in a space (e.g., kWh) by the area of that space (e.g., square feet or meters). Multiply this metric by the area of the space with missing data to estimate the energy consumption. This method is a good option since similar space use is typically consistent across an organization. Leased office spaces for a software company would share similar EUIs, just as restaurants in a franchise would be similar.

Industry benchmarks

Use publicly available industry benchmarks when your organization does not have enough offices to develop an internal EUI. Some government entities (e.g., the U.S. Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey and the U.K. Non-domestic National Energy Efficiency Data Framework) conduct nationwide surveys that sample energy use across commercial buildings. These metrics get aggregated by region and building type to provide building owners and tenants with a database to benchmark their energy consumption performance. This information is typically provided in kilowatt hours (kWh) per unit of area.

If you know your facility’s area, you can multiply it by the appropriate EUI from a national survey to approximate your facility’s energy consumption during a given period.  

While these final two methods may be the least accurate means of measuring energy consumption, they will provide a more complete picture of your organization’s emissions and valuable insight into where your largest reported data gaps exist.

Sustain.Life makes the rest of this process simple by applying the appropriate emissions factors based on your energy type and location to generate the most accurate emissions statement for your organization. Armed with this information, plan your emissions reduction program around those activities with the biggest impact.

Sustain.Life is led by a team that wants to change the face of business. We offer streamlined financial sustainability software for measuring, managing, and generating sustainability reports for businesses. Take a closer look at the environmental data software that’s adaptable as your business is and request a sustainability software demo with us today.

Editorial statement
At Sustain.Life, our goal is to provide the most up-to-date, objective, and research-based information to help readers make informed decisions. Written by practitioners and experts, articles are grounded in research and experience-based practices. All information has been fact-checked and reviewed by our team of sustainability professionals to ensure content is accurate and aligns with current industry standards. Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.
Ben Gruitt
Ben Gruitt is a senior manager of sustainable solutions at Sustain.Life. He has over five years experience as a carbon solutions manager, consultant, and technical lead that integrates sustainability into organizational culture.
Alyssa Rade
Alyssa Rade is the chief sustainability officer at Sustain.Life. She has over ten years of corporate sustainability experience and guides Sustain.Life’s platform features.
The takeaway

For office-based organizations, energy consumption in leased spaces is one of the most significant emissions-generating activities.