Occupant Empowerment: Creating a Culture of Sustainability with LEED

Lonny Blumenthal, LEED AP O+M
Associate, LEED
U.S. Green Building Council

I hear people say it all the time: “Buildings don’t use energy, people do.” So then I ask myself: Why has the idea of engaging with building occupants fallen by the wayside?…Despite the fact that it’s one of the most cost-effective ways to minimize energy consumption and save money? I wish I could provide a simple answer to that question, but the reality is that influencing occupants to modify their behavior to meet the sustainability goals of a building and/or an organization is far from straightforward. It requires an understanding of the actions people perform and even more importantly, the motivation behind those actions. Sounds easy, right?

Less power, more occupant empowerment.
Photo credit: Public Domain Photos

To address the impact occupants have on resource consumption in the built environment, USGBC recently released Pilot Credit 59: Occupant Engagement. Our goal is to help improve the performance of existing buildings by enabling energy efficient behaviors among building occupants. The credit encourages building owners and tenants to create a culture of sustainability and resource conservation for occupants in LEED-certified projects. Project teams are awarded for implementing innovative engagement mechanisms that empower occupants to become aware of and responsible for their own energy consumption.

Pilot Credit 59: Occupant Engagement requires two main components:

  1. Consumption feedback: Inform occupants about the actual energy consumption of the building and/or their workspace and provide a relevant comparison point
  2. Occupant empowerment: Implement and maintain an occupant engagement program that includes education, empowerment and feedback components

We would like project teams to establish performance goals and develop a way to effectively track the success of the occupant engagement program. Additionally, the requirements above are only intended to serve as a foundation for an occupant engagement program and are by no means meant to display a “one size fits all” approach.

Introducing this concept as a pilot credit allows us to leverage both project team and market feedback to directly inform whether the credit’s requirements are effective or if they should be modified to better accomplish the stated intent.

So, let’s hear from you. Have you recently implemented an occupant engagement program focused on energy efficiency? What strategies did you find effective? What barriers kept your program from achieving its goals?

Occupant Empowerment: Creating a Culture of Sustainability with LEED

Lonny Blumenthal, LEED AP O+M
Associate, LEED
U.S. Green Building Council

I hear people say it all the time: “Buildings don’t use energy, people do.” So then I ask myself: Why has the idea of engaging with building occupants fallen by the wayside?…Despite the fact that it’s one of the most cost-effective ways to minimize energy consumption and save money? I wish I could provide a simple answer to that question, but the reality is that influencing occupants to modify their behavior to meet the sustainability goals of a building and/or an organization is far from straightforward. It requires an understanding of the actions people perform and even more importantly, the motivation behind those actions. Sounds easy, right?

Less power, more occupant empowerment.
Photo credit: Public Domain Photos

To address the impact occupants have on resource consumption in the built environment, USGBC recently released Pilot Credit 59: Occupant Engagement. Our goal is to help improve the performance of existing buildings by enabling energy efficient behaviors among building occupants. The credit encourages building owners and tenants to create a culture of sustainability and resource conservation for occupants in LEED-certified projects. Project teams are awarded for implementing innovative engagement mechanisms that empower occupants to become aware of and responsible for their own energy consumption.

Pilot Credit 59: Occupant Engagement requires two main components:

  1. Consumption feedback: Inform occupants about the actual energy consumption of the building and/or their workspace and provide a relevant comparison point
  2. Occupant empowerment: Implement and maintain an occupant engagement program that includes education, empowerment and feedback components

We would like project teams to establish performance goals and develop a way to effectively track the success of the occupant engagement program. Additionally, the requirements above are only intended to serve as a foundation for an occupant engagement program and are by no means meant to display a “one size fits all” approach.

Introducing this concept as a pilot credit allows us to leverage both project team and market feedback to directly inform whether the credit’s requirements are effective or if they should be modified to better accomplish the stated intent.

So, let’s hear from you. Have you recently implemented an occupant engagement program focused on energy efficiency? What strategies did you find effective? What barriers kept your program from achieving its goals?

May I Borrow Your Jumper Cables?


Lauren Riggs, LEED AP
Manager, LEED Performance
U.S. Green Building Council

“May I borrow some jumper cables?” The brick building asked the building next door. The brick building’s energy use was out of control; It needed to kick-start its efficiency. The building next door answered with Energy Jumpstart, the new pilot prerequisite in USGBC’s Pilot Credit Library. USGBC hopes that this pilot can act as a set of jumper cables to stir up a segment of the buildings market that has the potential to make huge energy efficiency gains.

Source: Charles Williams via Flickr

On March 1, when the third public comment period for LEED 2012 opened, USGBC launched Pilot Credit 67 (aka Energy Jumpstart), a Pilot Alternative Compliance Path for EA Prerequisite 2 in LEED 2009 for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance.

Confused?…let me explain.

If you’re familiar with LEED, you know each LEED prerequisite has mandatory pathways for compliance. For Energy and Atmosphere prerequisite 2, the traditional entry point for most buildings has been an ENERGY STAR rating of 69, a benchmark that certain market segments, such as older buildings, have a particularly tough time meeting. Cue Energy Jumpstart, an alternative path for this prerequisite (and the first pilot alternative compliance path ever), targeted at older buildings with energy challenges.

Projects pursuing the pilot must show an energy improvement of 20 percent over a 12 month period, as compared to a three year baseline, qualifying them for initial certification at the Certified level. Keep in mind that USGBC wants projects to recertify – so these projects have the opportunity to come back into LEED at Silver, Gold or Platinum in the future!

The requirements for this pilot prerequisite were first in the LEED 2012 for Existing Buildings: O&M Draft Rating System, but were moved into the pilot library for a few reasons:

  • The market now has a chance to pilot this new pathway under LEED 2009
  • USGBC has the opportunity to refine the pilot requirements as the market comments on its use of the pilot
  • USGBC and the market can work together to determine the demand and effectiveness of a performance improvement path for LEED.

Obtaining full market buy-in and demonstrating demand for a pathway like Energy Jumpstart is essential for the success of this option in LEED – the more projects that use the pilot prerequisite to jump into LEED, the better. Let’s get all buildings running efficiently. Let’s let all leaders lead. And let’s put a hand out to those who need a little help making a big difference.