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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Exploring the potential impact of Energy Benchmarking on Nashville’s path towards sustainable development

The American “Music City” of Nashville, capital of the state of Tennessee, is witnessing an unprecedented population growth with no signs of abating anytime soon. As Music City’s skyline changes at a breakneck rate, the question of how environmental sustainability is being incorporated into the built environment emerges. One potential action being considered by Nashville’s local government is to improve the energy efficiency of its buildings via the implementation of an energy benchmarking policy (EBP). EBPs, which require buildings within certain categories to report their energy usage to local authorities, have been enacted in numerous jurisdictions across the U.S.

This research commences with a review of several key topics presented in literature, including the link between buildings and climate change, the importance of energy efficiency in climate action, the successes and challenges reported by American jurisdictions with EBPs, and sustainability-related actions taken by the Nashville government to date. This study’s purpose of examining the potential impacts of implementing an EBP for Music City buildings is then achieved via a three-tier methodological approach: through examining the successes and failures of benchmarking programs established in Austin, Boulder, Indianapolis, and Orlando; through interviewing current Nashville developers and building managers to understand their current mindset and position regarding sustainable development policies; and through the creation of a bespoke calculation tool that can quantify the potential benefits that are expected to follow the EBP’s implementation, including the cumulative reduction in energy usage, utility bills, and greenhouse gas emissions.

The qualitative components of the methodology led to a rich discussion of lessons to be learned from the reviewed peer cities and insights from private developers on how to best frame and present the EBP’s requirements to Nashville’s private sector. With the calculation tool, numerous scenarios of cumulative impacts can be developed with variations from four key inputs: type and minimum floor area of buildings to be benchmarked, expected percent reduction in annual energy consumption, and number of years since the policy’s implementation. With these deliverables, Nashville will have a solid foundation on which to design and launch an impactful EBP that will move Tennessee’s capital closer towards becoming a truly sustainable Music City.



Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.