Over the past decade, many commercial real estate firms have seen the light about the virtues of energy efficiency. But the base building is at best half the story of energy consumption in commercial buildings. And tenants, which may use 50 percent or more of the energy in a building, often focus far less on energy efficiency than owners and property management firms do.

Now there’s an effort afoot to transform the way tenants build out space. Spearheaded by the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Center for Market Innovation, the initiative aims to demonstrate why and how tenants should make their space very energy efficient.

The non-profit group has been working with tenants to develop a process for identifying and justifying high performance tenant improvements. CMI staff works with the tenant to identify measures that will reduce energy use by 30 to 50 percent compared to a standard code-compliant build-out.

What’s striking about the project is that it doesn’t stop at the design stage. For each of the build-outs, a measurement and verification plan is developed. What’s more, the facility staff is involved in planning the build-out; operations is part of the dialog when options are evaluated.

The project has produced a series of resources  available online. One document lays out a 10-step process for building out high performance tenant space. Another explains how to use energy modeling, determine the extra cost of high-performance measures, and develop a financial analysis to evaluate options based on capital and operating costs. Detailed case studies — two done with more on the way — report on what was done in specific spaces and how much those measures cost, and present payback and net present value analyses. Tools are available online to help with financial analysis and energy modeling. Click here for links to download about those resources.