Most veteran reality-TV watchers know the weight loss program “The Biggest Loser” but the Environmental Protection Agency has its own unique version, “Battle of the Buildings.”

The concept is to see how much energy any given building can cut by just before Labor Day.

Among the no-tech suggestions from last year’s contestants is simply planting trees on the western side of buildings to cut down on sun.

Buildings are a huge source of potential energy waste, and in many cases property owners have proved very responsive to incentives, making the real estate sector low-hanging fruit for the Environmental Protection Agency’s energy efficiency efforts.

Teams from 245 buildings around the country are going head-to-head to improve energy efficiency and determine who can most reduce their energy use compared with usage at the end of summer last year, EPA told Breaking Energy.

According to the EPA, the diet analogy is an apt one, as the contest and the potential energy cuts involve a large degree of utility measurement in order to know what and where to make cuts.

But while involving high-tech solutions such as thermal imaging cameras, interval smart meters, and an energy tracking online tool, many of the waste cutting strategies include low or no tech, such as building maintenance and occupant behavioral changes. Among the no-tech suggestions from last year’s contestants is simply planting trees on the western side of buildings to cut down on sun.

The EPA recommends that cutting energy requires taking conversations that happen in the boiler room up to the boardroom to get everyone involved in waste cutting.

“I am excited to see so many companies joining our Battle of the Buildings competition and finding new ways to improve their energy efficiency,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson.

“We’re harnessing our nation’s innovative capacity to save money on electric bills, create a cleaner environment and protect the health of American families.”

Competitors will measure and track their building’s monthly energy consumption using EPA’s Energy Star online energy tracking tool, Portfolio Manager. This interactive energy management tool allows building managers to track and assess energy and water consumption online.

According to the EPA, Portfolio Manager can help identify buildings that are under-performing in the energy department, verify efficiency improvements, and receive EPA recognition for superior energy performance.

The contest kicked off in early May. From the initial 245 contestants, the contest will be narrowed in July, and a small group of finalist will be selected to compete against each other until the end of August

The finalists will be required to submit Statements of Energy Performance (SEPs) on their utility data for the entire competition period (ending in August), which must be signed and stamped by a professional engineer or licensed architect. Among the finalists, the building with the largest percentage reduction in energy use will be recognized as the winner in November.

“EPA’s Battle of the Buildings competitors are showing that everyone can help save energy where we work, play and learn,” said EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe in a statement.

“If you want to save energy, you can start by turning off lights when you leave the room, power down computers and unplug electronics when they aren’t in use. These small steps can make a big difference in saving energy and money.”

How does the competition work? Judges will compare a building’s EUI or energy intensity usage, between two 12-month-period ending dates: August 31 2010 and the same date this year. The competitor that demonstrates the greatest percent-based reduction in weather-normalized energy use intensity (EUI) across these two periods will be recognized as the winner.

This year’s field of competitors has grown markedly from 2010’s, which included only 14 building compared with this year’s 245.

Last year’s winner, Morrison Residence Hall at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, began the competition with a EUI of 213 as of 08/31/09. At the end of the next twelve month period, 8/31/10, the building had an EUI of 137. The EPA said this equates to a 35.7 percent reduction in just one year, saving more than $250,000 on their energy bills and reducing more than 730 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. It also earned the EPA ENERGY STAR label for superior energy efficiency, according to the EPA.

The Sears store in Glen Burnie, Maryland, came in second place with a 31.7 percent energy reduction, and the JCPenney store in Orange, California, claimed third place with energy savings of 28.4 percent.

The competition includes 26 different types of commercial buildings, such as retail stores, schools, hotels, and museums. Competitors will be able to exchange ideas and strategies through various social media applications, including a live Twitter feed and a Facebook forum.

The oldest building this year is the 122-year-old DMI Companies corporate headquarters (the former Wilbur Hotel) in Charleroi, PA.

Watch actor John Corbett, as celebrity spokesperson, help to kick off this year’s event with an introductory video.