A telephone poll conducted for a realtors group says most Evanstonians surveyed oppose the city’s plan to require owners of large buildings in town to report their energy usage to the city.

The survey of 400 Evanston residents found 57 percent opposed the environmental audit program, while 38 percent said they favored it.

The poll was conducted for Illinois Realtors in mid-November by We Ask America with calls placed to cell phone and landline numbers. The polling firm says it has a margin of error of just under 5 percentage points.

The poll results also indicate that most residents weren’t familiar with the proposal before they were called by the pollsters. Over 80 percent of respondents said they hadn’t heard about the benchmarking plan before, while only 4 percent said they’d heard a lot about it.

The poll also found 53 percent of residents agreeing with the statement that property owners already pay close attention to energy and water costs and that the ordinance “will be just another costly, bureaucratic burden” imposed by the city.

More broadly, nearly 68 percent of respondents to the poll said they thought the city is generally headed in the right direction.

But more than 65 percent said they thought property taxes here are too high.

Asked what issue they would most like city officials to concentrate on, 36 percent said lowering property taxes, 28 percent said economic development, 20 percent said fixing roads and sidewalks and 9 percent said reducing the city’s carbon footprint.

In an email interview with Evanston Now, Howard Handler, the government affairs director of Illinois Realtors, denied that the survey amounted to a “push poll” designed to sway opinions by using loaded or manipulative questions.

The city is scheduled to hold a workshop on the energy benchmarking program at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 6, in the Parasol Room at the Civic Center.

The benchmarking proposal here would reach proportionately far more buildings than a similar plan adopted in Chicago. Chicago’s plan covers only buildings larger than 50,000 square feet, while the Evanston plan would cover all buildings larger than 20,000 square feet.

Related stories

Benchmarking plan to burden more here (11/16/15)

City postpones plan to police energy use (9/27/16)

Benchmarking ordinance back in play (9/15/16)

Council benches benchmarking ordinance (7/26/16)

Plan would force building owners to report energy use (3/17/15)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Benchmarking makes a lot of sense for some apt. buildings

    I work for a property management company that owns apartment buildings in Evanston (and surrounding areas). In some of the buildings, we pay the heating bill (steam radiators), and in some buildings, the tenant pays for all utilities (HVAC system in each unit). While we do have a financial incentive to make energy efficiency upgrades in the buildings with central metering, we do not have any financial incentive to do that in buildings where all the utilities are individually metered. And it's not like our tenants are going to discover that their utility bills are too high, and break open the walls to add insulation.

  2. What will Council do ?
    Will they dig in the heels and say “we don’t care what the public thinks” or “we know better than you do” ?
    Vast odds is one or the other.
    They need to build their budget so they look important and hiring more people to staff their project will do it. Then they can ask for more money next year.

  3. Additional Context on Bencharking

    The report on this poll mentioned a couple of key points which I'd like to highlight:

    "The poll results also indicate that most residents weren't familiar with the proposal before they were called by the pollsters." It's unfortunate that more folks aren't aware of the issue–in my experience once folks understand the ordinance, the ease of compliance, and potential benefits they're more than happy to support it. Public education is critical, and to that end the City Evanston has conducted a very thorough and public engagement process. And Evanston Now has covered the issue extensively. For anyone reading this who needs to catch up, there's good information on the City's website: Or come out to the workshop torrow. Or contact CGE.

    "The poll also found 53 percent of residents agreeing with the statement that property owners already pay close attention to energy and water costs." Aside from the fact that this statement is based on the respondents' opinions rather than actual fact, 53% is far too low. That number should be 100% and benchmarking will help get it there.

    And speaking of polls–if polls were correct we'd all be getting a different president next month despite 88% of Evanston voters choosing the other candidate. In a community as demonstrably progressive as ours benchmarking should be a no-brainer. It's easy. It's cheap. It's being done elsewhere–dozens of cities and towns around the country. Evanston is just playing catch up. Over the next four years I hope many other communities will join us.

    Jonathan Nieuwsma

    President, Citizens' Greener Evanston

    1. What does it take?

       Why doesn't Citizens for Greener Evanston make its case rather than sneaking their ordinance through city council?  Until you do what will it take for you to get it through your heads that people are tired of the incessant creep of government intrusion into their lives?

      1. Next Step

        Does anyone think this is the last step ? Would they just look at the numbers and toss them in the wastebasket ? Hardly. The collect data to use it. The Nazis required Jews to report their art and jeweler—innocent–hardly. They then had a list of where to raid. The city will look at the numbers, set a standard and pass an ordinance with a fine for units used above their standard. As I read the requirement a one story building with same ground space will be evaluated the same as the a building with same foot print but 20 stories.

    2. Observations on the poll

      Some notes on the poll:

      •The poll description of the ordinance seems misleading.
                      • not an ‘audit'.
                      • 'submit the data [to] the city' sounds more forboding and burdensome than it is.
                      • city commitment to ‘periodically release’ does not sound very useful or reliable.
                      • No potential benefits or reasons for the ordinance are clearly stated.
                      • 'just another costly, bureaucratic burden imposed by Evanston’ is a patently leading question.
                      • same for 'large-scale environmental audit program.’  A directed question for which the answer may be anticipated.
              • This statement appears intended to threaten aldermen: 'more voters said they would be less likely to vote for their alderman if they did vote for the proposed ordinance compared to those that said they would be more likely.’

      1. Addressing Observatons

        Thank you for your feedback.

        I have never seen a poll, in which one did not like the outcome, that was not criticized.  Allow me though to address some of your points:

        * The use of the word audit is completely appropriate.  In fact,'s definition includes: "the inspection or examination of a building or other facility to evaluateor improve its appropriateness, safety, efficiency, or the like: An energy audit can suggest ways to reduce home fuel bills."

        * "Submit the data to the city" is very benign, neutral, and accruate language.  Property owners will in fact have to submit the data to the city.

        * "Just another costly, bureaucratic burden" was preceded by "Do you agree, or disagree with the following statement: Reducing energy and water use is a noble goal, but property owners already pay close attention to those numbers. This ordinance will be…".  Respodents were asked whether or not they agree with that statement, which a minority of respondents disagreed.  It is perfectly reasonable to ask voters if they believe specific government policies are costly and burdensome, and it is perfectly reasonable to give voters an opportunity to express that viewpoint.  Anyone with basic knowledge of polling understands that valid polling can and should test viewpoints that include unflattering portrayals — it in no way means the question is leading.

        Howard Handler
        Illinois REALTORS  

    3. Addressing Your Context

      1. It would indeed be great if more people were familiar with the proposed ordinance, however, the overwhelming majority are not.

      2. Fifty-three percent of voters polled agreed more with the statement that large property owners are already paying attention to their energy and water use.  As you point out, that is an opinion and not a fact and not reflective of how large property owners assess their energy and water use.  Certainly far more than 53 percent of large property owners may and likely do pay close attention to their energy and water use.

      3. There is a significant difference between polling a presidential race versus on one issue in one municipality.  The chief difference being that presidential polling attempts to capture both someone's voting intention and also the likelihood they will turnout and actually vote.  In this case, the poll is only capturing someone's viewpoint — they don't actually have to go out to a polling place and register that opinion.  While the polls were certainly off in this one presidential race, it does not mean all polling and statistical sampling is out the window — it is still a very valid science.

      Howard Handler
      Illinois REALTORS 

      1. Why is it a burden to report a few simple statistics?

        Mr. Handler, 

        The Evanston Climate Action Plan identified commercial and residential buildings as the largest single contributors to GHGe in the community thus also representing the largest area for potential reductions and improvement of efficiency.

        Benchmarking has been proven to lower building energy usage and to reduce operating expenses. An EPA analysis of roughly 35,000 buildings utilizing the ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager benchmarking tool showed a 7% average energy savings over three years, with the initial lowest performing buildings making the greatest improvements

        Why is it a burden to report a few simple statistics?  I am a landlord in Evanston and I am asked to do all kinds of things I don’t want to do… But since I am part of this community and if it will help the environment or our understanding of it, I'll do it.

        Since as you point out that the majority of Evanston voters polled agreed more with the statement that large property owners are already paying attention to their energy and water use, then it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes for the owners and managers of the mandated properties to report this readily available information (printed clearly on their monthly bills). Or, even ask NiCor and ComEd to eventually automate reporting of the data requested. 

        Methinks, not too much to ask for the good of the community and in the best interest of our planet too. 

        Respectfully, Brian G. Becharas

        1. It goes beyond the burden.

          Good and fair questions, Brian.


          First, it is not accurate to state that energy benchmarking has proven to result in seven percent average savings over three years.  Professor Robert Stavins who directs Harvard’s Environmental Economics Program and the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements, and is the former Chairman of the EPA Environmental Economics Advisory Committee, and who is a strong proponent of reducing our carbon footprint states addressed that stat: “I have heard references to an EPA study that some people claim shows the effectiveness of building labeling programs. I have reviewed the EPA studies. They demonstrate nothing about the likely effectiveness of a mandatory building labeling program. In brief, the EPA studies look at participants in the voluntary Energy Star Portfolio program, and thus focus on those who already are most pre-disposed to be interested in energy efficiency. This is called “self-selection bias.” One of the studies then goes on to focus even more narrowly on those buildings that received the Energy Star certification (the top 25% compared with national baseline). And then the study finds – of course – that the Energy Star certified buildings perform better than a national average of all buildings. This is fine, but clearly it proves nothing: just the self-selection bias, and the top-25% prize. The causality is not from labeling to performance, but from performance to certification.”


          Second, it is a giant leap to go from property owners reviewing their own energy and water use, to requiring them to be trained on a specific software program, enter the information into software, publicly submit that once private data to the government, be subject to fines, hire a professional every three years to audit and certify what you inputed, and having the government publicly release that data in any way, shape or form, not to mention once that data is submitted to the city, it will be accessible to anyone that files a Freedom of Information Act request.  The data may very well stigmatize older, more historical properties and impact property values.


          For these reasons, I have even heard from property owners that currently benchmark and still oppose this ordinance.


          There might be good value in benchmarking, but there is no market failure in which the city must mandate the collection and release of this information.  A far superior approach, since proponents indicate how easy and valuable benchmarking is, is to simply educate property owners as to its benefits.  If there are no downsides, only upsides, surely many property owners, that don’t already, will jump on board.  

          Howard Handler
          Illinois REALTORS

          1. “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.”

            Mr. Handler,

            Here’s the link to the Washington, DC based organization (Institute for Market Transformation) sharing the EPA data:

            In it they present:

            The data revealed that if all buildings in the U.S. followed a similar trend, more than 18 million metric tons of carbon dioxide could be saved each year. That much carbon dioxide saved would equate to $4.2 billion in energy savings just in the first year, according to IMT’s calculations. EPA estimates that through 2020, the total savings in building energy use could be approximately 25 percent on a per-building basis if the trend continues.

            "Improving the energy efficiency of our nation’s buildings is critical to protecting our environment," said Jean Lupinacci, Chief of the ENERGY STAR Commercial & Industrial Branch. "No matter the building type, organizations across the country are using EPA's ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager to demonstrate that you can't manage what you don't measure."

            For me it boils down to – Do I want to be part of the problem (to global warming/climate change) or, do I want to be part of the solution?

            Respectfully submitted, Brian G. Becharas

  4. Benchmarking survey

    With most (80%) survey respondents admitting they were not familiar with the initiative, it is no suprise that they were not in favor. Already well over 100 buildings are benchmarking voluntarily. That alone is an indication that this initiative has merit. Chicago has seen the benefits of benchmarking for two years, as have numerous other cities across the Nation. Benchmarking, once learned, is easy, all one needs to know is ComED, Nicor and City Water. The utilities, city staff and other energy-efficiency NGOs will help us through the process. Help the Evanston collective reduce its carbon footprint and hold off climate change. The Evanston Utilities Commission continues its support for benchmarking. 

    1. Not disputing the merit.

      Energy benchmarking may very well have merit.  That is why the "utilities, city staff, and energy-efficiency NGOs" which you indicate will help through the process, should go out and educate property owners as to the merit and offer to assist them in benchmarking.  But what is proposed goes well beyond that: mandatory public disclosure, fines, and the requirement that property owners hire a third party auditor to verify submissions.  However, education and a voluntary program has never been even considered by proponents.

      Howard Handler
      Illinois REALTORS

      1. Easy Solution

        If benchmarking has so many benefits to property owners and the community it should be an easy "sell".  Why not make your case and let people flock to you of their own accord. Or are we just too stupid to get it?

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published.