The Boston Green Ribbon Commission's Lab Benchmarking Study

Alison Farmer, kW Engineering
Quentin Gilly, Harvard University

We present the results of an important new benchmarking study of academic laboratory buildings from the Boston area, conducted by the Boston Green Ribbon Commission (GRC) Higher Education Working Group (HEWG).

With the proliferation of building energy disclosure ordinances comes an urgent need for contextualization of lab building energy consumption. Without proper context, even the most energy-efficient lab facility appears greedy compared to a neighboring elementary school or office building. Recognizing the Boston area's unique position as an efficiency-minded, lab-dense region with multiple energy disclosure ordinances in force, the GRC HEWG set out to assemble a lab benchmarking dataset with quality and consistency exceeding that of other samples. The resulting Boston lab sample, which contains energy usage data and building characteristics for 121 higher-ed lab facilities, provides a wealth of information on Boston's lab building population and allows each building's energy intensity to be placed in proper context within the region and against national averages.

The high-quality data from the Boston sample can also be used to explore the potential for a lab building energy score, a question with implications reaching far beyond the Boston area. The results of the HEWG study will be invaluable to the national discussion on lab benchmarking as I2SL works to enhance its tools and resources.

The first HEWG Boston lab benchmarking report was published in early 2017, and the study is now in its second year of data collection. This presentation will focus on the demand and motivation for the study, the methodology used to create a high-quality dataset, the results of the study and their reception, the potential for an energy score for lab buildings, unanticipated issues and limitations of the approach, and future directions for the Boston lab sample. Importantly, the presentation will include the perspective of the client: a representative of one of the participating schools will share their interest in and expectations for the benchmarking exercise, the challenges around obtaining data and lessons learned, and ways in which the school plans to use the results of the work as part of their energy action plan.

The GRC HEWG is chaired by Katie Lapp, Executive Vice President of Harvard University, and the group is managed by the Harvard University Office for Sustainability.

Learning Objectives

  • Recognize the demand for benchmarking that arises from mandatory public disclosure of energy usage and describe the potential use of benchmarking findings for building owners.
  • Evaluate ways to reduce the scatter in building energy datasets and explain the reasons for pursuing reduced scatter; identify some of the difficulties found in the collection of high-quality building data.
  • Compare the energy intensity of Boston area higher-ed lab buildings with that of labs in the rest of the country.
  • Describe the challenges associated with the construction of an energy score for lab buildings, and identify the relative potential for a score for different types of lab buildings


Alison Farmer is a physicist with a deep dedication to energy efficiency in buildings. Her work at kW Engineering spans strategic planning, energy audits, control system design, commissioning, energy analysis, and research into the latest high-efficiency technologies for lab buildings. She has chaired the I2SL Lab Benchmarking Working Group since its inception in 2014. Alison holds Bachelors and Masters degrees in physics from the University of Cambridge and a PhD in astrophysics from Caltech.

Quentin Gilly is the senior coordinator for the Green Labs Program at the Harvard Faculty of Arts & Sciences where he partners with scientists, staff, and students to develop innovative solutions for reducing energy and waste in the lab environment. Quentin holds a Bachelors degree in Geography from Indiana University and a Masters degree in Environmental Management from Harvard.


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