The Human Side of Efficient Buildings

It’s been a little more than four weeks now that I’ve worked on the RMI buildings team.  As I mentioned in a previous blog post, my primary responsibility is writing case studies of buildings that have undergone deep energy efficiency retrofits.  A deep retrofit is defined as any project that saves 50% or more in energy use.  The goal of these case studies is to move the building industry forward by providing examples of how retrofits can be advantageous to both owners and tenants, and allow other buildings to learn from the projects that have already been done.

With my background in psychology and an interest in human functioning and productivity, one of the first things that struck me in the research I’ve been doing for my job is that there are benefits to efficient buildings far beyond cheaper energy bills and lower carbon dioxide emissions.  This is significant both to me as a personal reason of why I focus on green buildings in my career, and to property owners and tenants when considering whether to retrofit their buildings.

In their deep retrofit guides, RMI likes to talk about how efficient buildings can increase worker productivity by 6-16%, which is quite valuable because labor costs are some of the highest that businesses face.  Efficient buildings “boast reduced absenteeism, better employee health, higher occupancy rates, increased rental rates and sales prices, and decreased financial and regulatory risk,” they write.

Beyond office spaces, building efficiency has non-energy benefits in other sectors as well.  A recent report by the U.S. Department of Justice details the methods and advantages of energy efficiency a prisons, including reduced aggression.  Daylighting and natural views in prison inmates’ cells can also reduce health complaints.

One of the buildings that I’m writing a case study about this summer, the Byron Rogers office building in Denver, Colorado, is a model of energy efficiency despite its less-than-ideal orientation and necessitated preservation of historic features.  The deep retrofit of this building achieved about an 80% reduction in energy use.  Even more impressively, the RMI Innovation Center, which will open in December and serve as the organization’s new headquarters, is slated to be one of the most efficient buildings in the world and was designed and constructed with the goals of setting an example and moving the entire building industry in mind.  Exciting news – this summer I’ll be creating a behavioral energy efficiency plan for the Innovation Center!  I’m really excited about this and happy that I can spend some of my time on the behavior change aspect of energy efficiency, which is my main area of interest.

It’s really stimulating to be working on some of the most extraordinary buildings in the world this summer, and really encouraging to me that working on building efficiency produces benefits both in energy savings and human health and comfort.  Tomorrow, I am looking forward to attending a US Green Building Council happy hour for young professionals in Denver.  I am happy to be where I am, doing what I’m doing!