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Sustainable Commercial Building Guide

Environmentally sustainable buildings save building owners money, increase property values, and provide more comfortable surroundings for their occupants. Reducing energy use from buildings is also a key component of fighting climate change. In the City of Milwaukee, commercial buildings create 25% of community-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. There are many readily available and affordable improvements to reduce energy use, helping property owners save money while reducing GHG emissions from their buildings.

Use this guide to help you on your sustainability journey and reach out to local resource organizations like the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council and the Wisconsin Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council.

ECO's Other Helpful Guides

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  ECO Design Guidelines for Commercial Buildings

ECO Design Guidelines for Commercial Buildings Cover

ECO created Design Guidelines for Commercial Buildings to share the history, purpose, and use of sustainable urban design in Milwaukee.

The guide includes details on the following categories:

• Site Design

• Building Design

• Energy Use

• Materials & Resources

• Construction & Demolition

• Indoor Environment Quality

• Operations & Maintenance


  City of Milwaukee Introduction to Commercial Rainwater Harvesting

City of Milwaukee INTRODUCTION TO COMMERCIAL RAINWATER HARVESTINGThe Commercial Rainwater Harvesting Guide supports commercial properties in reusing water to reduce their environmental footprint, lighten the load on stormwater infrastructure, and protect natural resources.

Rainwater harvesting projects come in many shapes and sizes, but the type of system and level of complexity is dependent on the end-use of the water you collect, be it irrigation, flushing toilets, cooling towers, fire suppression, manufacturing processes, washing vehicles, laundry, or filling pools.

The guide includes details on the following categories:

• Recognition & Marketing

• Permitting & Codes

• Catchment, Storage & Treatment

• Finding Green Vendors

• Practical Case Studies


Sustainable Building Features

  • Air Sealing & Insulation
  • Day Lighting Prioritization & Window Shades
  • Efficient Computers & Office Equipment
  • Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure
  • High Efficiency LEED Lighting
  • Heat Pump/Heat Pump Water Heater
  • Lighting Controls
  • Photovoltaic (Solar) Panels
  • Smart Building Energy Management System

Sustainable building features graphics_photo from Construction 21 International

Get Started: Follow 4 Steps

  • Step 1: Use Benchmarking for Energy Use
  • Step 2: Conduct an Energy Assessment
  • Step 3: Set Your Sustainability Goals
  • Step 4: Take Advantage of Incentives & Financing

People reviewing benchmarking data

Step 1: Benchmarking

Energy benchmarking is an important tool for managing building energy use. At its core, benchmarking tracks energy use over time and allows comparison of energy performance to a building’s past performance and to other similar buildings. It helps identify abnormalities in energy use as well as areas for improvement. According to the EPA, buildings reduce energy use by an average of 2.4% per year when benchmarking is done consistently over time. 


  • Visualize your building's energy use
  • Compare your building to similar buildings
  • ENERGY STAR® certification

Frequently Asked Questions 

Start Benchmarking

Energy Star Portfolio Manager Preview

ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager

Portfolio Manager is a FREE, interactive management tool that offers energy benchmarking of any type of building. Nearly 25% of U.S. commercial buildings actively benchmark using the tool.

Create a Profile to Get Started


ENERGY STAR® Resources

Explore ENERGY STAR® benchmarking resources such as live online trainings, recorded webinars, how-to-guides, employee education kits, energy-savings competitions, and data trends.

Find Benchmarking Resources

People conducting an energy assessment

Step 2: Energy Assessments

An energy assessment identifies energy saving opportunities to improve your building value, decrease operating costs, and make your tenants and employees more comfortable. Assessments vary in their level of detail and can include utility bill analysis (benchmarking), an on-site walkthrough to gather information on all energy using systems and equipment, and review of building plans and schedules. The results of the walkthrough and analysis depend on the level of the assessment conducted and are compiled in a report detailing potential improvements, savings, and cost analysis. The goal of the report is to provide a roadmap of cost-effective projects and their impact on energy use.


  • Understand how your building uses energy and how to reduce waste
  • Receive personalized recommendations for cost-effective energy projects
  • Improve return on investment for building improvements

Schedule an Assessment


Advisor meeting with residents

Focus on Energy Advisors

Energy Advisors help guide you through an energy efficiency project by offering pre-approval on qualifying projects and process rebates based on equipment, among other support.

Find an Advisor


Focus on Energy Trade Ally Contractors

Trade Allies are valuable contractors and service providers who deliver energy efficiency and renewable energy products and expertise directly to Wisconsin residents and businesses.

Find a Contractor

A sustainable earth

Step 3: Sustainability Challenges

Before going through an individual transformation, get connected to local, national, or global challenges to align your work and advance collective efforts. You will receive access to resources and support to achieve greater success alongside peers. The competitive aspect of the challenge can drive greater results and motivate your team to push further than you might otherwise. Achievement of the challenge goals will be recognized on a large scale.


  • Be recognized as a leader in the community and beyond
  • Take part in collective action to better reach shared goals
  • Find a clear sense of purpose and direction in your sustainability journey

Find a Certification or Challenge

Executive V Center

Better Buildings Challenge

The Milwaukee Better Buildings Challenge launched in September 2016, bringing together all of the resources a building needs to develop an energy efficiency project, including benchmarking in ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager and free energy assessments. ECO is currently evaluating funding opportunities to relaunch the challenge supported by the federal Department of Energy. Learn about past successes below.

Take the Challenge!

Solar installerBetter Climate Challenge

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is challenging organizations to set ambitious greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction goals. Organizations can partner with DOE to reduce portfolio-wide GHG emissions (scope 1 & 2) by at least 50% within 10 years. DOE will provide technical assistance and opportunities to learn and share actionable best practices for carbon reduction. Join local leaders the Harley-Davidson Motor Company, Johnson Controls, and Kohl's who have shown early commitment.

Take the Challenge!

City buildingsENERGY STAR® Certification

ENERGY STAR®-certified buildings save energy and money while protecting the environment by generating fewer greenhouse gas emissions than typical buildings. Once in operation, ENERGY STAR®-certified buildings use 35% less energy than similar buildings nationwide. To be certified as ENERGY STAR® each year, a building must meet strict energy performance standards set by Environmental Protection Agency and verified by a licensed Professional Engineer or Registered Architect.

Get Certified!

Construction on a buildingLEED Certification

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a green building certification program used worldwide that is available to all building types and all building phases. To achieve LEED certification, a project earns points by adhering to prerequisites and credits that address carbon, energy, water, waste, transportation, materials, health and indoor environmental quality. Certification requires a verification and review process.

Get Certified!

WaterWater Stewardship Challenge

The Water Council's Water Stewardship Verified (WAVE) Program gives companies a way to improve water stewardship and have it independently verified by SCS Global Services. It is a six-step methodology for improving, reporting, and recognizing good corporate water stewardship. Join local companies like AO Smith in assessing water-related risk across the enterprise and implementing best practices for performance.

Take the Challenge!

Financing for Sustainability

Step 4: Financing & Incentives

Finding the right resources to support your project is essential to fund major improvements that deliver on sustainability goals and realize cost savings. Resources are available through financing programs, as well as federal and statewide rebates and incentives. Get started by considering the selection of resources available specifically for commercial buildings. Consider the types of improvements you will be making, project type, and the sustainability objectives you aim to achieve.


  • Variety of eligible projects and improvements
  • Ability to layer resources for maximum benefit
  • Combination of private, federal, and local funding sources

Find Financial Resources


Energy efficient building

Focus on Energy Incentives

The State of Wisconsin Focus on Energy Program offers incentives and rebates to commercial buildings for areas such as new construction and renovations, equipment replacement, operations and maintenance, renewable energy, tune-ups and assessments, and special offerings like roadway lighting.

Explore What's Available

Small businesses

Green Innovation Fund

The Green Innovation Fund will be the first environmental and clean energy fund in Wisconsin. Commonly referred to as “green banks,” the Green Innovation Fund and its partners will leverage public and private financing to invest in projects that provide environmental and clean energy solutions.

Stay Tuned for Updates

Solar panels on a business

Inflation Reduction Act Incentives

The Inflation Reduction Act offers tax credits, rebates, deductions, grants, and loans to property owners for energy efficiency retrofits and efficient new construction. Funding is available to improve the energy efficiency of and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in commercial buildings.

Read What's Available

The Trade Hotel

PACE Financing Program 

The City’s Property Assessed Clean Energy Financing leverages private capital for upfront improvements and collects payments with a voluntary municipal special charge. PACE can affordably finance energy or water efficiency, renewable energy, energy reliability, electric vehicle infrastructure, green infrastructure, and other resiliency upgrades.

Apply for Financing

Rooftop solar

Solar Group Buy Program

Grow Solar Greater Milwaukee is an education and group purchasing program for residential and commercial solar. FREE information session, site assessments, and cost estimates are available. Home and business owners in Milwaukee County can pool their buying power for significant discounts that make installing high-quality solar more affordable.

Sign Up for the 2023 Program

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