Over the past several years, the Green Rehab team at the Office of Sustainability has been implementing an exciting research project to investigate the impact of environmentally focused renovations on WashU off-campus residential buildings. This year, the team has undertaken a second phase of the project: engaging residents to explore the impact of habits and behavior on energy conservation. This aspect of the project is especially important because behavior, how residents use building systems like heating and air conditioning, hot water heaters, refrigerators, lighting, etc., can account for up to 60% of a building’s total energy consumption. For example, a highly efficient user might use half the energy to heat their apartment as compared to a highly inefficient user, even when both apartments are similar and equipped with identical heating systems. Thus, while upgrading and installing efficient building systems (passive conservation) is important, it is critical to engage residents to efficiently utilize these systems (active conservation).
To that end, the Green Rehab team has designed an approach where residents receive information on the importance of energy conservation and the impact of their daily actions on energy consumption. In addition, residents are provided with information detailing steps to reduce their energy consumption while maintaining their quality of life. Finally, the residents are provided with monthly feedback on their energy use, enabling them to make informed decisions and understand the impact of their energy consumption habits.
Initially, the occupant engagement is being piloted on a small subset of off-campus residents. However, it is intended that the program will expand to include all off-campus residents in the future. Buildings account for approximately 40% of total energy consumption in the U.S. Therefore, enabling residents to reduce their energy consumption through efficient living will have a significant impact on meeting energy conservation and greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals.