Occupant cooperation need to save energy

  November 6, 2012

Today's tip is to engage occupants’ cooperation to save energy. Occupants are clearly a major factor in whether a facility hits its energy efficiency goals.

Space heaters are a good example of how occupants affect energy use, though the HVAC, lighting and envelope systems also come into play. Susan Mazur-Stommen, director of the behavior and human dimensions program at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, says this can lead facility managers to perceive their facility's occupants as "urban pests," like raccoons or squirrels. But buildings serve people, not the other way around. Facility managers have to understand why occupants do what they do and find ways to meet those needs, with as much of an eye to energy efficiency as possible.

The first thing to do is simply to walk around the facility and observe the situation. Starting with the obvious, assess the plug load. It's not really important to be able to quantify the amount of energy all the equipment uses, but rather to get a sense of how many there are and how they're being used. Also, see if anyone is defeating HVAC set points, blocking air vents, leaving lights on, or leaving windows or outside doors open.

This initial walk-through is purely for information gathering; it is not the time to start lecturing, Mazur-Stommen says. "Occupants are trying, in their own way, to modify their environment for their productivity and morale. They could become partners with building operations and maintenance staff."

One popular strategy is to incentivize behavior change, often as a contest. During these contests, the spirit of competition can be a strong motivator, but little research shows how or if the savings persist after the contest is over. Another wrinkle is that not everyone is motivated by competition.

Instead of mandating strategies, Brandywine Realty Trust educates its tenants on energy costs and strategies to minimize them. Stan Cichocki, senior property manager at Brandywine, says, "The tenants choose to come here and they want to be comfortable." If it comes to tweaking a set point for energy savings versus upsetting a tenant, "I'll do my best to save it elsewhere."

Trying to coerce people into making energy efficient choices is not sustainable in the long term. Tenant engagement programs “need several factors in order to function effectively," Mazur-Stommen says. "They require buy-in and commitment — particularly from the top down."


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