For many of us, thinking about energy efficiency means thinking about changes we can make at home. But residential energy efficiency is just one slice of the energy use pie. According to data from the Energy Information Administration, energy use in the residential and commercial sectors is neck and neck, at 22% and 19% respectively. Which means that commercial spaces—the offices, stores, schools, warehouses, restaurants, and other buildings that serve as workplaces—should also be on our minds when we think about ways to use less energy in our daily lives.

Underscoring this point is ENERGY STAR's National Building Competition, a contest among 14 buildings from around the nation to see which facility can lower its energy use intensity (EUI) by the highest percentage over a fixed period of time. The contestants run the gamut of commercial buildings, from college residence halls, to retail stores, to hotels, to elementary schools. Each building has already had its initial EUI measured. The same measurement will be taken again at the mid-point of the competition on July 21st, and the winner will be announced on October 26th.

What's great about this competition is its acknowledgement that energy savings is an ongoing process that even the savviest building energy manager needs to continuously revisit. Many of the buildings chosen to participate have been working towards reducing their energy usage for quite some time. However, all also recognize that there are still gains to be made. Seasons change, energy costs fluctuate, and energy needs shift—and all these changes can be seen as opportunities to reevaluate building conservation strategies, whether the building in question is a big box store, a multi-story hotel, or a small office building.

So, if you haven't yet considered energy efficiency in your workplace, maybe it's time to start. Changing out lighting for more efficient options can make for an easy first step; configuring the power management settings on your office equipment to operate in their most efficient mode is another. If your place of business has already made these changes, you may want to think about reconfiguring or replacing the HVAC system or making building envelope upgrades like adding insulation or improving windows. Or, get everyone involved and start building-wide effort to encourage employees to make energy saving choices; this guide from the Federal Energy Management Program on creating energy awareness programs at federal facilities has some good tips that could be applied to a variety of facilities (PDF 3.8 MB). If your workplace starts now, who knows how much energy (and money!) you will have saved by the time Energy Star wraps up the National Building Competition in October.

Ready for more? You can find tips on saving energy in a variety of workplace settings through Energy Savers and Energy Star's Buildings and Plants site.

Amy Foster Parish is on staff with the Washington State University Extension Energy Program and answers inquiries through the EERE Information Center.