The most useful technology in Key Bank's energy efficiency efforts isn't a dazzling new solar panel or an aesthetically pleasing green-building architectural wonder. It's an online utility consumption measuring tool.

The software, a product from Schneider Electric called Research Advisor, takes in data from the KeyCorp subsidiary's utility billing system, including cost and energy consumption, and gives the bank a site-by-site view of its entire building footprint.

It's a powerful tool for the bank because it provides a clear picture of real-time energy usage for each facility, which is very helpful in setting goals and deciding what green initiatives to invest in, says Andrew Watterson, head of sustainability for Key Bank.

"What you deploy [programs] from a green building perspective or energy efficiency perspective, such as building management systems or solar power or lighting controls, are very site-specific. And making sure you use the right approach for that individual facility is about having the data to be able to know that this is a heavy energy user or not," Watterson says.

Using the online tool, Key Bank monitors energy consumption on a monthly basis, projecting energy use and identifying what buildings are performing better than others. Most of the buildings tracked by the online tool are put into the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's building manager system. The EPA system calculates an Energy STAR score that allows the bank to benchmark its buildings against other buildings.

"Technology is a critical component to establishing goals and what you can measure," Watterson says. "Without knowing your footprint and being able to calculate it, we're really just shooting in the dark on what's reasonable with, for instance, carbon reduction."

Key Bank has adjusted some of its initial green goals as it has searched for the right technology to measure what matters most, and to set goals — both realistic and stretch goals — for what the bank can accomplish in three to five years.

Last year, the bank more accurately defined and quantified its energy and emissions data, with help from some of the usage data provided by the online tool. In a May report, KeyCorp said that its 2014 Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions — defined as produced directly or indirectly from purchased electricity sources — were down more than 8 percent from 2013 and down more than 22 percent from 2009. Its 2020 emissions goal is a 30 percent reduction from the 2009 baseline.

The bank reduced its direct and indirect energy use in 2014 by 17 percent from 2009, with 2 percent due to vacating a large corporate building, 3 percent due to mild temperatures and the remainder due to its green initiatives. Key Bank's 2020 goal is a 25 percent reduction from 2009.

For 2016, the bank's original goal was to have 50 percent of its sites be Energy STAR certified. That goal was changed to a performance measure tied to square footage instead of a sites percentage. The reasoning: Some sites have less space than others, so a site-based goal isn't as effective in showing return on investment in energy efficiency initiatives. The bank has more than 200 sites that are Energy STAR certified, with scores of 75 or better, and 23 LEED-certified sites.

One area of technology in which the bank has made significant investments over the last two years has been in building management systems, which give the bank's building facilities managers more control over HVAC and lighting systems, Watterson says. Much of the energy savings comes from simply turning down the heat or AC during off-hours and making sure the lights are off when office space is unoccupied. "That's an easy win. We've been seeing a 12-15 percent reduction in energy use simply from deploying those systems."

Another early win for the bank has been in lighting retrofits, capitalizing on recent advances in lighting technology, such as the use of LED.

The bank hasn't invested significantly in solar energy generation, although it continues to assess solar technology as costs come down, because the return on investment isn't as great as with the energy efficiency initiatives it is pursuing, Watterson says. Key Bank is also focusing on its biggest buildings with the highest energy use, such as its LEED Platinum data center — the highest certification level awarded by the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design green building program. The bank's other data center is LEED Gold certified.

LEED Platinum certified data centers are relatively rare — a list compiled by DataCenterKnowledge.com includes only one other bank data center: Citigroup's Frankfurt, Germany, facility, which was the first operational data center to earn the rating, in 2009.

The most successful energy efficiency projects aren't necessarily the flashiest. The bank's Brooklyn, Ohio, LEED Platinum building, with more than 2,000 employees, is one example.

"It looks like any other building," Watterson says. "We don't have a passive wall; we haven't deployed the light shelves to capture natural daylight. We focus most of our efforts in the LEED category around reducing energy consumption, improving indoor air quality — things that are more behind the scenes rather than front and center. Part of that is just connected to where are we going to get the most return on investment and where are we going to help achieve our energy reduction goals."

About 48 percent of the bank's total building space is now LEED-certified, and about 30 percent of the bank's space has an Energy STAR score of 75% or above.