Nicholas School Internship Blogs

What is Behavioral Energy Efficiency? (Part 2 of 2)
by -- July 21st, 2015

As I introduced in my last blog post, behavioral energy efficiency, sometimes called occupancy engagement in the context of building efficiency, is a growing field. However, it is not an area yet well-understood by RMI and similar organizations.

Luckily, I get to spend this summer increasing the inclusion of behavioral science in RMI’s buildings practice! Since expressing my interest in behavioral energy efficiency, I’ve been working with my supervisors to create a project centered around this: an occupant engagement program for RMI’s new headquarters building. Like I mentioned in an earlier post, the building will open in December in Basalt, Colorado.

I’m targeting three main behavior patterns through my program: plug loads at individuals’ desks, commuting to and from work, and hoteling.

Because of the extraordinarily efficient technical design of the new building, plug loads will be one of the top sources of energy consumption. Therefore, to maintain its status as a model building that seeks to move the industry forward, it’s imperative to look at how to reduce plug loads. My favorite idea that I’ve come up with is to track energy use for the office as a whole, display real-time energy use in graphical form on a TV in the lobby, and each time the office has conserved $200 worth of energy below the expected energy use with normal plug loads, they get a catered lunch of their choice. RMI already provides free lunch to all employees, but getting pizza or other catered food in place of the normal groceries would hopefully be enough of a motivating treat!

This is not set in stone yet though, because I need to run the ideas by colleagues who work up in the headquarters building. The Boulder office has quite a different culture than the Snowmass office (where the headquarters currently is), so I want to ensure that this will work with their culture!

For transportation, I’m working with some colleagues on a parking cash-out program that will hopefully be implemented in both Boulder and Basalt. Through this program, employees who do not park at the office for a month will be paid the value of the parking spot they did not occupy. Another idea is to put up a board in the office lobby with rows for each type of commute (i.e. walking, driving alone, taking the bus, biking, carpooling) and asking all employees to report their commute by placing a magnet with their name in the appropriate row. The issue with this is that it may create some negative sentiment among those who have to report that they drove alone, which could decrease employee morale. I am working towards piloting one or both of these transportation ideas in the Boulder office this summer which will allow me to figure out which idea works better!

Lastly, I’m looking at hoteling, which is the practice of not assigning desks to employees, and instead having them just sit wherever they want every day when they arrive. The purpose of this is that for organizations where many people travel often, office space can be reduced if they don’t need to have empty desks taken up by those who are traveling. An office where employees travel 50% of the time can be half the size if hoteling is used.

Many people at RMI’s Snowmass headquarters already hotel, but with the move into the new Basalt building, hopefully all but the very senior leadership will hotel. Right now I am researching how to facilitate a smooth cultural transition, as employees when forced to hotel may feel that they give up their work identity when they give up their desks.

I’m also working towards piloting hoteling in the Boulder office, where we may not ask people to hotel fully, but create a system for employees who are out of the office for a day or more to mark their desks as available. This would be valuable because right now there are not enough desks for all the interns to have spaces.

It is really exciting to work on these projects that seek to change the culture of RMI and move us as an organization in the direction of more thoroughly practicing what we preach. Keep following my blog to learn more about how these projects turn out by the end of the summer!

A preview for my next blog post, in which I’ll tell you about traversing a several hundred-foot cliff in Telluride, Colorado!

A preview for my next blog post, in which I’ll tell you about traversing a several hundred-foot cliff near this waterfall in Telluride, Colorado!

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