DWS Focuses Sustainability Efforts on Least Efficient Buildings

Project Energy Saver developed out of DWS's real estate investment business' comprehensive sustainability efforts over the past decade. In 2010, the company created an overarching framework called its “Standards of Sustainability,” which includes guidelines on energy benchmarking, lighting upgrades, recycling, water conservation, sustainability training, tenant communication, and quarterly reporting from third-party property managers to DWS. After implementing these protocols, the DWS team noticed that there were numerous energy efficiency opportunities in some lower-performing buildings and developed Project Energy Saver to increase the company’s focus on its least energy-efficient properties. Buildings that score below 75 on ENERGY STAR’s 1-100 scale are not eligible for ENERGY STAR certification and those that score below 69 are not eligible for LEED for Existing Buildings certification. This threshold can sometimes lead companies to focus sustainability efforts on properties for which ENERGY STAR or LEED certification are more readily attainable even though the buildings that have a long road to certification usually have the greatest potential to reduce energy consumption.

Project Energy Saver mirrors and expands upon DWS's Standards of Sustainability. Via interviews of property operations teams and checklist-based building walkthroughs, the program produces a succinct report that details how each subject building is operating and identifies at least four or five opportunities to improve efficiency at properties that are not performing optimally.

Through Project Energy Saver, DWS targets and prioritizes its low performers and thereby captures the largest opportunities for energy savings, from no-cost/low-cost projects that can be funded through operating expenditure budgets to higher-cost investments that require capital expenditures. This stands in contrast to the common tendency for companies to focus mainly on their star buildings that can bring positive recognition more quickly.

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  • Policies

    Buildings that meet one or more of the following criteria are candidates for Project Energy Saver:

    • EPA ENERGY STAR® score of 70 or lower*
    • High Source Energy Use Intensity (EUI) (typically over 250 kBtu/SF)
    • High energy spend (typically over $2.50/SF)
    • Greater than 5% slip in energy performance over 12 months

    *Note: an ENERGY STAR score below 69 renders an existing building ineligible for either ENERGY STAR or LEED for Existing Buildings certification

  • Process

    Properties are identified for Project Energy Saver participation based on the policies listed above. Eligible buildings begin with an interview of onsite property and engineering staff and a building walkthrough by a member of the Contract Management Sustainability Team

    For each building selected, Project Energy Saver proceeds according to five steps:

    1. Training Call – Project Energy Saver was created and is currently administered by the DWS Contract Management Sustainability team (CM Sustainability). CM Sustainability schedules a kickoff conference call with the building’s property team, which usually consists of the property manager, chief engineer or other maintenance personnel. On this call, CM Sustainability provides an overview of the program and the Project Energy Saver checklist. After responding to any questions or concerns, CM Sustainability schedules a building site visit with the property
    2. Site Visit - Interview – Typically, the CM Sustainability team schedules three to four hours of time with the subject building’s property management and engineering staff. The site visit has two parts: the interview and the walkthrough. The interview, during which the CM Sustainability team representative reviews the checklist item-by-item with the property manager(s) and engineer(s), generally comprises the majority of the site visit. It is the duty of the CM Sustainability Team Member (CM/STM) to administer the checklist, i.e. to record the responses provided by the property manager(s) and engineer(s). The immediate objective of the interview is to facilitate a conversation about the building’s operational and systemic conditions, deficiencies, and opportunities. More importantly, the interview creates a sense of buy-in to the Project Energy Saver process among the property
    3. Site Visit - Walkthrough – The second part of the site visit, the walkthrough, follows the interview (usually after a lunch break) and takes approximately one to three hours, depending on building size. The walkthrough includes at least one tenant space, all common areas (lobbies, corridors, exterior plazas, etc.), roofs, mechanical rooms, electrical rooms, janitorial closets, restrooms, and any other relevant back-of-house areas. If applicable, the CM/STM views the Building Management System (BMS) and visually inspects the Graphic User Interface (GUI) to determine if any opportunities exist to optimize set points, economizer cycles, etc. The CM/STM makes note and takes photos of any physical or systemic deficiencies, such as high or low set points on the BMS GUI, over-lit building areas, manual thermostats without a lockout feature in place, incandescent bulbs, and areas that have manual light switches instead of motion sensors. Finally, the CM Sustainability Team Member closely inspects HVAC equipment and notes the location of any missing panels or insulation, stuck louvers, coils or filters in need of cleaning, and any other areas of concern. The CM/STM also examines the lighting throughout the building, looking for any opportunities to de-lamp over-lit areas such as lobbies, spaces with skylights, and
    4. Reporting – After the site visit, the CM/STM completes the Project Energy Saver checklist and drafts a one-page executive summary that identifies all energy efficiency improvement opportunities and recommendations. The final checklist and executive summary is required to be submitted within six weeks of the initial training conference
    5. Ongoing Tracking – Project Energy Saver seeks to identify at least four or five opportunities to increase efficiency at each participating building. In addition to highlighting improvement opportunities in the executive summary, due following completion of the site visit, the identified items are memorialized in a simple Tracking Document which CM Sustainability then updates as Energy Conservation Measures (ECMs) are implemented and energy performance improvements are made. CM Sustainability tracks whether/when each improvement is initiated by maintaining communication with the property and engineering teams at each subject building. Semi-annual follow-up calls are conducted with each participant following the initial walkthrough. CM Sustainability updates the Project Energy Saver Checklist and Tracking Document with the most up-to-date information gathered from each participant. Lastly, CM Sustainability uses the latest Tracking Document to report progress to DWS leadership.

    The Project Energy Saver process provides a simple and concise method to evaluate office assets in the company’s portfolio and provides personnel support and training opportunities focused on efficient energy operations. Even before efficiency improvement projects are undertaken, Project Energy Saver facilitates understanding of the operating conditions at each subject building that are responsible for less-than-optimum energy performance. The consistency of the Project Energy Saver process allows any DWS stakeholder to quickly understand a building’s energy performance and the recommended measures for improvement. The Project Energy Saver opportunity analysis process can also be used in high-performing buildings in order to determine the feasibility of LEED-EB O&M certification or for possible Active Energy Management (AEM) programs deemed appropriate for the property.

    The graphic below depicts the Project Energy Saver process.

  • Measuring Success

    Energy performance metrics for each Project Energy Saver building are monitored in DWS’s Tracking Document. Actual increases in efficiency ultimately determine the success of the program. These efficiency increases will contribute significantly to DWS’s internal energy improvement goals as well as progress toward its Better Buildings Challenge goal of 20% reduction in energy intensity within 10 years.

  • Outcomes

    DWS has initiated Project Energy Saver at a total of 26 buildings comprising over 3 million square feet.

    The cumulative savings across all current Project Energy Saver buildings is 7% savings in Energy Use Intensity (EUI). The checklists and executive summaries for each participating property continue to demonstrate the need for and purpose of Project Energy Saver - identifying low and no-cost energy efficiency measures. The program has also boosted employee engagement: the majority of Project Energy Saver participants believe the program to be very successful and have expressed gratitude for their involvement.

    CM Sustainability plans to roll out the Project Energy Saver process across the DWS portfolio over time. As it expands to more and increasingly complex assets, it will lead to the development of a comprehensive energy management program. The goal is to build upon the best practices that already contributed to DWS’s portfolio-wide average ENERGY STAR score improvement from 64 to 80 between 2011 and 2015 to improve the company’s portfolio-wide energy performance even further.

Real estate investment company DWS launched "Project Energy Saver" to improve energy performance consistently across its entire portfolio, including the least-efficient buildings that are not eligible for ENERGY STAR or LEED certification, but represent the greatest opportunities for improvement.


Commercial Real Estate


Existing buildings that are not eligible for ENERGY STAR or LEED certification are sometimes given lower priority for sustainability efforts than high-performing buildings, leaving the greatest efficiency improvement opportunities untapped


Launched “Project Energy Saver” to provide a consistent framework for evaluating and improving property energy performance across the entire portfolio, including identifying energy conservation measures, making simple operational improvements, and planning for capital projects at the least energy-efficient buildings in addition to the most energy-efficient buildings


Since a baseline of December 31, 2013, the average weighted ENERGY STAR score for Project Energy Saver buildings increased from 52.5 to 59.2. On average, Project Energy Saver participants reduced energy consumption by16.1 kBtu/SF