Key Considerations for Industrial Benchmarking in Theory and Practice

The industrial sector is responsible for 20 percent of the nation’s energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Benchmarking is used in a variety of applications to improve the efficiency of industrial facilities and therefore bring emissions down. In this context, benchmarking refers to developing and using metrics to compare the energy or emissions intensity of industrial facilities. Benchmarks are primarily used to compare facilities within the same sector, but can also be used to identify best practices across sectors where common process units, such as boilers, are used. Policymakers can use benchmarking for a variety of purposes, including setting emissions standards, recognizing leading facilities, promoting information sharing, or allocating emission credits in a cap-and-trade program.

This paper, developed through the Industry Working Group of North America 2050, is intended to encourage consistency in benchmarking methodology across programs within a single jurisdiction, as well as across jurisdictions. When facilities are benchmarked using a consistent methodology, it is possible to identify best practices as well as opportunities for improvement across sectors and jurisdictions. For example, two paper mills in neighboring states will only be able to compare their performance if both states use the same data collection methods and metrics. To encourage such consistency, this paper defines and explains key issues that arise when policymakers establish a benchmarking program. It also includes guiding principles recommended by the Working Group based on a review of benchmarking literature and successful programs.