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Building Occupants Can Impede Energy Efficiency Efforts


People are infinitely creative. In a facility, this creativity can be to the detriment of facility managers, with occupants finding ways to circumvent systems, override settings, and thwart recommendations. Facility managers know these tricks all too well: a wet washcloth draped over the thermostat to force heating, vents taped over with pieces of paper, or space heaters and mini-fridges gobbling up energy. While this is frustrating to facility managers, these occupants may not realize the impact of their actions or may not see an alternative to their creative solution. They understand the facility goals or procedures, but still engage in behaviors that conflict with their awareness of company policies.

This is precisely the challenge when addressing human behavior: people are predictably irrational. People often act in ways that conflict with what they know they should do or even what they believe. These contradictions are evident every day: people smoke despite the health risks and text while driving despite the risks to everyone on the road. In all of these issues, behaviors and beliefs are complicated. Individuals make different choices on the same issue based on their environment, values, and priorities. Additionally, complex social factors — many of them invisible — play heavily into these decisions.

The social science of behavior change attempts to explain and harness the phenomenon of human behavior. Barriers like forgetfulness, inertia, lack of knowledge, structural barriers, or lack of peer influence all result in less-than-desirable behaviors when it comes to saving energy in buildings. By addressing the core barriers that prevent behavioral change, facility managers can help occupants change their habits. Ultimately, occupants and facility managers share a common goal of providing healthy and efficient spaces to live, work and learn.

This Quick Read comes from Ashley Ruiz, program manager for McKinstry’s powerED program, a behavior-focused energy awareness and operational efficiency program, and Jesse Sycuro, P.E., CEM, LEED AP, the operations manager for McKinstry’s Energy Management group. Read more from them about ways to use occupant behavior to reduce energy consumption.

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