Culture Change Produces Large Energy Savings at Rocky Mountain High School
The most impressive example of how behavior can affect efficiency is to look at how culture change produced big energy savings at Rocky Mountain High School. Cross is one of the co-authors of a study that looked at how the school saved 50 percent on its electricity bill without any major capital projects. Rocky Mountain was actually using less electricity than Fossil Ridge High School, the district's brand new LEED certified sustainable jewel. This caused quite a bit of consternation.
But, as it turns out, when Reeve examined the data, it was a tempest in a teapot. Fossil Ridge is actually more efficient than Rocky Mountain on a KBtu/sq. ft./yr. basis, and has an Energy Star score of 96. Still, it was important to learn how Rocky Mountain had become so electricity-efficient. Reeve summarizes the key question that he hoped the study would answer: "How did we make the older building perform better from an electricity standpoint?"
What happened, the report says, is that a small group of people began making efficiency a cause, and quite simply, their enthusiasm spread. "Schools are organizations inside organizations," says Cross. "Social scientists call the person responsible for a change a 'charismatic leader.' That person is inspiring and empowering." At Rocky Mountain, which now has an Energy Star score of 87, there were actually three charismatic leaders — the head custodian, the principal, and a science teacher, who runs an "energy efficiency club," in which students try to discover new ways to save.
But Rocky Mountain is simply one success story. Indeed, as the study concludes: "Rocky was able to reduce its energy consumption by 50 percent because it is in a district that made a commitment to energy conservation and sustainability, supported leaders in all organizational levels, and provided policies and incentives in support of schools making a commitment to sustainability."
That culture is one of the main reasons why Rocky Mountain's success is repeatable, says Cross. "I wouldn't say you can train a charismatic leader, but charismatic leaders are everywhere," she says. "So you find the passionate people — the people at each school who can inspire students to make changes and empower them. Any school can identify and cultivate charismatic leaders."
Additionally, with the cultural foundation in place, it becomes easier to find the charismatic leaders, and their ideas are lent greater support.
"We were a little ahead of the whole green movement, so we've gotten buy-in across the district," says Hall. "But it's proven to take a lot of time and effort. It's exciting to watch, but even a couple years ago, I felt like I was still pushing a boulder uphill. Now it's going on its own. That's not something that just happens."
Hall again cites Rocky Mountain as an example of why an instilled culture of efficiency is important — the principal there, one of the charismatic leaders, is leaving. But he and Reeve say they can rest assured that with the groundwork laid, and a program of energy efficiency built, the new principal can carry on.
And that's important because energy efficiency isn't a "project" that has a start and a finish. It's an ongoing strategy forever. Reeve clearly recognizes this: "There's always another opportunity," he says. "You're never really done. The door is always open."