Promoting Energy Awareness Saves Energy in Two Federal Workplaces

February 28, 2003

The State of Wisconsin's energy office and stakeholder teams from the U.S. Department of Agriculture/Forest Service's Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) and the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) used innovative approaches to promote energy saving behaviors among employees at Federal workplaces and find strategies that can be effective in other workplaces. FPL is a 275-employee facility of 430,000 square feet, one-third of which are laboratories and the remainder is office space. VAMC is an 850-employee three-shift facility of 600,000 square feet with 80 patient beds, research laboratories, clinics, and administrative areas. The FPL and VAMC included markedly different types of facility space, organizational cultures, and functions that allowed testing of a variety of approaches.

The project implementers realized it was important to understand and meet the needs of their coworkers. A project plan was developed in coordination with an internal stakeholder group from each facility, to achieve buy-in for the project, and to understand the technological and social dimensions of energy use that were unique to each facility. Surprisingly, the teams resisted traditional awareness approaches such as friendly competition between departments, lotteries, individual prizes, and pledges. Instead, stakeholders preferred approaches that did not spotlight one worker over coworkers, and minimized friction between departments, such as rewards to the entire organization. The FPL team, with a workforce of many scientists, indicated that their coworkers were motivated by no-nonsense factual information on saving energy and the prospect of larger research budgets as a result. Both teams were also interested in using the FEMP You Have the Power energy-awareness slogan.

The project implementers interviewed building managers, conducted baseline "operational" audits to determine the best energy-saving opportunities, and focused on identifying opportunities for improving employee interaction with energy-using equipment. The project implementers identified the most important actions employees could take to save energy, including:

  • turning off lights and computer monitors when leaving the office for extended periods of time,
  • shutting off computers at night,
  • activating power management on office equipment, and
  • setting thermostats lower during the winter and higher in the summer before leaving work for the day.

At FPL, these actions were estimated to save $30,000 per year, or enough energy to prevent 350 tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year. At VAMC, these actions were estimated to save $50,000 per year and 690 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. The campaign focused on encouraging more employees to take these actions consistently at work.

The implementers conducted campaign launch events with awareness materials and exhibits demonstrating the benefits of energy efficiency. The campaign continued with ongoing activities, including daytime audits which evolved into "walk around" energy awareness sessions. Implementers encountered a challenge when reducing computer energy use with monitor power management software. This led to the pilot testing of a hardware alternative (Monitor Miser). The project was expanded to include other pilots of energy saving hardware that relate to occupant behavior.

The project also encouraged employees to save energy at home, carrying over the new energy awareness from the workplace. During Earth Week, each facility sponsored an on-site sale of compact fluorescent light bulbs, offered by local retailers. Employees enthusiastically participated, buying almost 3,000 Energy Star® light bulbs for their homes.

The teams achieved significant energy savings by promoting energy awareness and changing workers' energy use habits. The project customized its approach for the specific conditions and opportunities in the participating buildings. Project elements included both technical assistance to operations and maintenance staff, and general educational outreach to all employees. The success of this project can be used as a model for similar projects in public and private workplaces. In fact, project results are being applied to several State and local government facilities.

For more information, please contact Barbara E. Smith of the Wisconsin Division of Energy at 608-266-7554, or Annie Haskins of FEMP at 202-586-4536.