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The climate change case for deep occupant engagement

Under-performance of green buildings 

“As more and more data comes in from newly built and retrofitted [green] buildings, actual outcomes often don’t compare favorably with energy performance predicted by modeling software. It is not uncommon to see energy and water use that is double that of modeled performance. The hardest-to-manage reason for longer-term performance gaps is the way people live and work in their buildings. Individual occupants and the choices they make—opening, closing, overriding, plugging in, turning up, leaving on—directly affect the amount of energy used in every type of building, from single-family homes to mixed-use high-rises. While exact estimates vary, experts at Jones Lang LaSalle told EBN that in the properties they manage, an average of 50%–60% of energy use is directly related to how commercial building tenants use their space.” Paula Melton, Environmental Building News –

Building occupants can achieve much more than just energy efficiency

The movement in green buildings towards occupant engagement is still a new field. While several occupant engagement programs have demonstrated energy and water savings and ROI for building owners, BioRegional believes these pioneering programs are too narrowly focused – often ignoring potential savings from changes in transport, food, waste, and shopping behaviors which are at least as important as reduced emissions from building energy. Consumption of goods and services has a far higher impact than most cities report, as demonstrated by King County/Seattle’s most recent Greenhouse Gas Inventory by the Stockholm Environment Institute, which used a progressive consumption footprint approach. The report found that “Emissions ‘embodied’ (those that occur pre-purchase) in goods, food, and services together comprise about 40 percent of Consumption-based emissions, suggesting that the embodied emissions associated with common purchases are a significant contributor to global GHG emissions.” BioRegional’s Capital Consumption report for the City of London, which also used a consumption footprint aprpoach, made similar findings. And a practical case study supporting a broader approach to behavior change can be found in the first ecoConcierge program which BioRegional conducted at BedZED in 2002 where 42% of total per capita carbon savings arose in the transport food, and waste categories with the assistance of an ecoConcierge.

At least 30% of national CO2 savings could come from behavior change

Behavioral change including eco-driving, less miles traveled, more use of public transportation, reducing high-carbon foods in diets, can reduce demand and lower emissions significantly. Studies in the USA by Dietz et al. and others indicate that large reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (up to 20%) are possible while excluding important impact categories such as our food and shopping footprints. Modelling from the UK Energy Research Centre in A Secure Low Carbon Energy Future? The UK Energy System between now and 2050 (p 113) shows an even higher potential savings of 30% in the housing and transport categories alone. And in BioRegional’s own work with the Wa$ted TV show on Discovery’s Planet Green channel, participating households who recieved coaching and an action plan for footprint reduction across multiple impact categories achieved an average 30% footprint reduction.