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Energy Conservation Programs

The most sophisticated energy-efficient buildings cannot meet low carbon emissions goals without cooperation from occupants and maintenance staff. The behavior of building occupants is a critical variable in low-energy operation.

The following links go to sections that describe how energy conservation programs that address occupant behaviors may fit into your climate action plans.

Simple actions such as turning off lights, closing blinds, and shutting a fume hood sash are necessary for low-energy performance. Conversely, careless behaviors can undermine building controls and consume excessive energy.

Energy Conservation Program Options

Energy conservation programs often use the following appeals to convince staffs and building occupants to conserve energy:

  • Engage building occupants in the mission of energy conservation and climate action.
  • Educate building occupants about their building systems.
  • Provide feedback with metered energy displays.
  • Create competition between groups, buildings, or other campuses.
  • Recognize accomplishments.

One common theme is that successful programs check in often with the target audiences and review results. It is important to demonstrate the direct connection between behaviors and energy conservation. A continuous energy conservation campaign may be required on college campuses where student populations turn over every year.

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Considerations for Energy Conservation Programs on Campus

Before assessing energy conservation programs to address occupant behaviors, a research campus should ask these questions:

Quick Return on Investment

Are energy conservation programs right for your campus?
  • Do you want an immediate impact with low investment?
  • Does the campus provide in-house training?
  • Do you have an understaffed energy management group?

Energy conservation programs can be run inexpensively and, if they are successful, can show immediate results. For some campuses, such programs represent the greatest and quickest returns on investment.

An energy conservation program can be started on a very small scale with one building or one department. The success and savings from that effort can then be used to grow incrementally. Harvard University adopted this approach, where investment in one staff member eventually led to the establishment of an office with substantial programs and a revolving loan fund in less than 10 years.

In-House Training

Laboratory personnel regularly attend health and safety training, which are often held on site. These trainings offer excellent opportunities to incorporate instructions about energy-efficient laboratory practices. The expenses for developing training materials can be modest, and the payoff can be substantial if laboratory personnel learn to view energy-efficient operation as part of their responsibilities.

Understaffed Energy Management Group

Many energy management groups are understaffed and underequipped to meet the challenge of reducing energy consumption while providing a greater level of services on growing campuses. One sign that this might be true on your campus is if the energy group tries to act as the "police" that enforce energy conservation procedures.

A more effective approach is to seek out individual technicians and group managers who share the value of energy conservation. The key is to provide these individuals with some training that will empower them, and in turn, encourage others. These individuals then become a network of change agents who together have a greater impact.

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Leading Examples

Two universities exhibit two differing approaches to energy conservation programs. The first involves direct involvement from volunteers to engage staffs in energy conservation. The second approach involves installing energy consumption meters in buildings throughout the campus in order to encourage conservation.

University of California at Santa Barbara LabRATS

Photo of a two men and a woman writing on notepads while another man wearing a tee-shirt and a hat speaks to them in a hallway.

LabRATS representatives ask a lab manager at the UCSB Chris Still Laboratory a series of behavior-based questions to determine how the laboratory might improve sustainability.
Courtesy of University of California at Santa Barbara

The University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) stands out as an example of a research campus that creatively engages laboratory personnel in energy conservation. The UCSB program, which was initiated and is carried out by laboratory peers called Laboratory and Technical Staff is called Laboratory Assessments for Resource Sustainability (LabRATS).

LabRATS conduct reviews of laboratory operations that examine a wide range of energy, safety, and sustainability issues. These include chemical inventory and exchange, lab equipment swaps, and a phase-out of mercury thermometers.

UCSB has found that involving lab uses in energy conservation greatly reduces energy loads and overall consumption. An excellent list of energy conservation opportunities for labs can be found in the Best Practices section of the LabRATS Web site.

Because of the breadth of the program, LabRATS have received national recognition, including a Go Beyond Award from Labs21 at its 2008 conference and an article in Science magazine.

University of Colorado Conservation Program

Photo showing the outside of a one-story building at dusk. Photo showing and empty room with a table with four chairs; a glass door leads to the outside of the building.

The University of Colorado Arnett Hall was renovated for low-energy design and has displays that give feedback to occupants about energy consumption.
Courtesy of Tyler Jones Photography

Many colleges and universities have had active energy conservation programs since the 1980s, and some programs stand out for their efforts to reach out to building occupants to inform and engage. The University of Colorado (CU), a Labs21 partner, has institutionalized its energy conservation programs so that students, faculty, and staffs continuously receive its message of energy awareness. The university manages its program through its Office of Sustainability, which has:

  • Installed energy consumption meters in all buildings
  • Established a hotline for occupants to report energy waste
  • Mounted displays of the meters in order to provide feedback data to building occupants
  • Published historic energy consumption reports for all buildings and made these reports available to the public
  • Presented campus energy consumption goals in university annual reports
  • Published educational briefs and fact sheets on energy conservation that are available to building occupants.
  • The extensive efforts at CU Boulder to pursue sustainability are described in their Campus Sustainability Plan.

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The following universities have successful energy conservation programs aimed at changing building occupant behaviors.

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