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Rock the Watt energy-conservation campaign logo. Image: Cortland Johnson, PNNLIn 2014, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL)’s Sustainability Program team launched Rock the Watt, a three-month energy-conservation campaign to promote sustainable behavior in lab and office spaces. The campaign involved more than 1,000 occupants in 14 buildings and building‐level volunteers. It was led by a cross-functional team of subject matter experts in building performance, communications and facilities operations.

The project design was rooted in behavioral science methods compiled by the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Federal Energy Management Program (see Institutional change and continuous improvement cycle). It started with an effort to understand opportunities for change through lab sustainability assessments, metering of select equipment and observation. Behavior change actions were then defined for office and lab users. Examples of actions targeted in offices included choosing energy-saving computer power settings and eliminating personal refrigerators and printers. Example actions targeted in labs included installing timers on equipment and increasing the set-points of ultra-low-temperature (-80 C) freezers.

The project action plan outlined a number of strategies that would be used to influence behavior. A primary strategy used was assigning a local building sustainability champion (BSC). The BSC was asked to send tailored messages about conservation opportunities to fellow occupants, conduct bi-weekly walkthroughs and talk with and recognize those who took action. To help the BSC be successful, the team provided training and resources, such as an energy action checklist and draft email messages. The team supplemented these efforts through campus-wide messages.

To evaluate the impact of Rock the Watt, actions taken by the BSCs and occupants were considered. Most BSCs followed through on requests to email messages and talk informally with occupants; they were less likely to complete checklists during walk-throughs, making documentation of actions taken challenging. About 250 occupant actions were documented in the 14 participating buildings, and were estimated to save roughly 115,000 kWh when annualized. This likely represents the minimum impact as not all BSCs documented actions, and it doesn’t account for post-campaign changes. For example, the number of freezers with warmer set-points increased from three at the end of the campaign to 27 six months later, prompted by the early adopters. Another benefit of the campaign was that occupants offered over 50 unsolicited suggestions to their BSCs, many of which resulted in direct savings (for example, de-lamping over-lit hallways).

Institutional change and continuous improvement cycle. Image: DOE Federal Energy Management ProgramSeveral lessons learned were identified to help organizations enhance behavior change campaigns. The first is to manage behavior change initiatives like an energy-conservation measure—take the time to plan, implement and measure results, and expect an ROI. The second is know your audience and what drives their behavior by observing and assessing opportunities and barriers. This allows planners to call for actions that are specific and relevant to occupants, rather than relying on “conserve energy” messages that leave how it’s done to the occupant’s imagination.

It was also found important to use multiple strategies that educate, enable and engage or motivate occupants, rather than a single approach like posters. One of the most effective strategies was having local-level advocates engage with occupants. Finding the right advocate takes time and personal outreach, but improves the chances of having a sustained impact.

Finally, measuring change and actual energy savings is necessary. It can help motivate people to take further action and show the ROI of behavior change campaigns. The PNNL project team developed a tracking tool to document actions and established standard savings estimates to use when measurements weren’t feasible, but getting BSCs to document changes was challenging. Simpler ways of tracking changes will be explored.

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Kathleen Judd is a Senior Research Scientist and Team Lead of Building Performance at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Her research interests are in using institutional and behavioral change principles to drive sustainability performance at the building and organizational levels.

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