by Mona Shand

ST. LOUIS, Mo. - Most people wouldn't buy a car without looking at the miles-per-gallon rating and environmental advocates think it's just as important to know the energy performance of Missouri's largest buildings.

The push is on to promote benchmarking across the state. Emily Andrews, executive director, Missouri Gateway Chapter with the U.S. Green Building Council says when it comes to improving the energy efficiency of large buildings such as hospitals, universities, office buildings and apartments, the devil really is in the details.

"It's easy to disconnect things that we're doing every day," says Andrews. "Sitting in front of a computer, using electricity to pretty much power our daily lives. You turn the lights on, they always come on, every time you do that you're drawing power. You are putting a demand on power plants."

Andrews is part of an initiative aimed at encouraging the largest building owners in St. Louis to take part in a voluntary benchmarking program, using the free Energy Star system. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, buildings that take part in benchmarking typically save seven percent on energy costs in the first three years.

Andrews says benchmarking allows building owners to tune into peaks and valleys of energy usage and to make adjustments that save money, create jobs and reduce dependance on coal. She adds many savings can be achieved by making low or even no cost changes.

"Just changing behavior," says Andrews. "Turning out lights, turning off computers, or installing motion sensors so that the lights will go off if no one is there. How many times have you driven by a building at night where every single light is on? "

Ashok Gupta, senior energy economist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, has been working with Kansas City lawmakers on a benchmarking ordinance that would require 1,500 of the largest buildings in the city to measure and share their energy usage.

While some building owners are critical of the proposal, Gupta says this isn't about forcing anyone to make changes, but simply about making information public.

"It's good for the owners, their tenants, the investors and the marketplace to just know," he says. "There's an old adage, which is 'You can't manage what you don't measure.'"

The ordinance, co-sponsored by the mayor, has been introduced to the city council and could come up for a vote later this month. So far, 13 major U.S. cities have passed similar ordinances, including Atlanta, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis and New York.