EDF Climate Corps fellow | July 22, 2014
By: Olin Berger
Discussions about combating climate change often center around disruptive technologies or drastic changes to normal methods of doing business. These flashy conversation pieces grab our attention and make for easy headlines, but often overshadow one of the simplest tools available for increasing energy efficiency: ourselves. Our daily behavior is a significant instrument that we can use to lower greenhouse gas emissions. Behavioral change provides access to a wealth of energy savings (and corresponding reduction of GHG emissions) without the uncertainties that come with unproven technologies or new business relationships.
In just one of the office buildings in the Chicago area managed by my host, GlenStar Properties, almost 620,000 kilowatt hours could be saved annually by removing language in the standard lease agreement that requires heating and air conditioning systems to operate at times when the building is largely not in use. Similarly, implementing energy saving systems on the computers in the building has the potential to save up to 400,000 kWh annually, and possibly more. Often this entails only simple changes such as using energy saving settings already included on every computer.
Simple, however, does not always mean easy. New technologies are exciting, not just due to their novelty, but also because they hold the promise of allowing us to change our environments instead of ourselves. One of the struggles that my host has encountered when attempting to change the lease structure is that some tenants simply dislike change or feel that a traditional right is being taken away from them. Similarly, being asked to lower the heat on a cold day, wait a little longer for an elevator, or switch a computer to sleep mode can be disagreeable when a tenant does not readily benefit from those actions. It only creates a burden to them.
This is why communication is the linchpin to behavioral change. Nobody ever ate their vegetables as a child just because of being told, “They’re good for you.” Explanations of the purpose behind change, and data supporting these claims, serve as the necessary supports to changing an idea from recommended to implemented. Sometimes tenants are merely unaware of potential energy saving behaviors and will readily switch practices when provided new information. When benefits are less clear, or changing habits is more difficult, more information is the key to success.
The drive to improve clarity pushes GlenStar to continue the implementation of sub-metering for all of its tenants. Sub-metering disaggregates a tenant’s energy use from the overall building usage, allowing for direct association of energy usage with particular tenants. Primarily, GlenStar set this goal to reduce friction in tenant/management relations. However, a secondary outcome has often been an uptick in energy awareness by tenants now accountable for their own energy use. Direct access to the consequences (both good and bad) of energy usage habits has been a driver of efficient behaviors.
Such feedback reinforces efficient practices, which has the potential to develop long-term habits. If current trends continue, our habits will eventually be so efficient that, hopefully, we will soon be back to getting excited about the newest energy saving gadgets, not just because they are unfamiliar, but because they will be the only remaining catalyst for change.
About EDF Climate Corps
EDF Climate Corps (edfclimatecorps.org) taps the talents of tomorrow’s leaders to save energy, money and the environment by placing specially trained EDF fellows in companies, cities and universities as dedicated energy problem solvers. Working with hundreds of leading organizations, EDF Climate Corps has uncovered nearly $1.3 billion in energy savings. For more information, visit edfclimatecorps.org. Read our blog at edfclimatecorps.org/blog. Follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/edfbiz and on Facebook at facebook.com/EDFClimateCorps.