The term “commissioning” comes from the ship industry. When a ship is built and delivered it goes through an extensive process of systems and component initiation called commissioning. Electronics are set up and calibrated, mechanical systems are made operational and fine tuned, sails are bent on, rigging is tuned and crews are trained. A similar type of commissioning needs to take place when a building is constructed or is retrofitted.


When a ship is launched it is the shipyard that oversees and coordinates the commissioning. When a building is “launched” there needs to be a similar agent designated who represents the interests of the owner in making sure that all work was planned properly, executed professionally, and is operating as designed. In the energy efficiency construction industry this person is usually called a commissioning agent (CxA).

Commissioning in buildings is generally the responsibility of the subcontractors providing the individual services, and this responsibility should be specifically referenced in their contracts to perform services, but it is the job of the CxA to make sure that this is done properly and completely.

Ideally the CxA is a trained and certified, independent, third party representative for the owner, working with the architects, engineers and contractors to oversee and verify energy efficiency, water efficiency, and sustainable building practices in the project from the planning stages through the final hand-over of the building. This is how commissioning is envisioned in the LEED certification program, with the CxA being a member of the original integrated project team.

Often however, there is no designated independent CxA on a project, with either the owner, auditor, or general contractor acting in that capacity. This is not necessarily a bad thing and is often adequate, especially in smaller projects, but leaves a concern with potential conflict of interest and with not having owners professionally advised about expensive options, costs and best practices.

Sustainable Environments will commission buildings that it also audits or can act as an owners representative and commissioning agent on a project contracted by another company.


Buildings that have already been upgraded and operate relatively efficiently sometimes still need a tune-up. Changes in use, tenancy, building management, and/or renovations can cause systems to not operate as effectively as they might. New technology added to existing systems might make them operate even more efficiently. Tune-ups on buildings already updated and originally commissioned are called “re-commissioning”.


Sometimes buildings have already been audited and had improvements made but are not performing as expected. The reasons for this can range from lack of a final tune up, to inadequate staff training, to inappropriate improvements. The process of finding and resolving this lack of performance is called “retro-commissioning”. Whereas re-commissioning is a tune-up of an already commissioned and adequately functioning building, retro-commissioning is a more in depth evaluation of the scope and function of work done in a building that might not have been completely commissioned in the first place.


Commissioning agents usually save many times their fees simply by helping select the most cost effective improvements, making sure they are priced properly, and ensuring that they operate as well as projected. According to the DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, “commissioning is the single most cost effective strategy for reducing energy costs” in buildings today, sometimes paying for itself within months of implementation.

Christopher Born, the principal of Sustainable Environments, is a member of the Building Commissioning Association (BCA), is a BCA certified Associate Commissioning Professional, and is also a US DOE/NREL certificated Quality Control Inspector.

Sustainable Environments is uniquely qualified to act as your commissioning agent. We follow Building Commissioning Association procedures and protocols when performing commissioning work.We have years of hands on experience with all sorts of energy efficiency upgrade improvements and know first hand which ones work well and which might be best avoided. We also know how to make sure they are installed to provide the most benefit over the longest possible time.

Let us become your commissioning agent to insure that your energy efficiency improvements are as complete, effective and fairly priced as possible.