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.

A Green Building Opportunity: Three Million Strong

Doug Gatlin
Vice President, LEED
U.S. Green Building Council

It’s a great time to be an existing building.

First: President Obama released last year’s Better Buildings Initiative, focusing financing opportunities on commercial retrofits.

Then: USGBC reported that LEED for Existing Buildings project square footage surpassed new construction projects.

Now: A new report has concluded that building reuse almost always offers environmental savings over demolition and new construction.

Empire State Building, LEED Gold.
Photo credit: John Donges, Flickr

It’s a hat trick for existing buildings, the many millions of them across the world. There are 838,337 alone in New York City, some three million skyscrapers across the U.S., and 71 billion total square feet covering the country. Everyone from building industry pros to the President of the United States is recognizing the vast potential to curb emissions and ramp up energy efficiency by greening this enormous stock of structures, to the tune of one million jobs. The market share of retrofit projects that are green is expected to rise to one third in 2015: An $18 billion opportunity. USGBC has been stressing the insurmountable benefits of focusing our greening efforts on the existing building stock, and we are thrilled that momentum is growing.

The study, conducted by the Preservation Green Lab of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, underscores one main point: We can, and we should, work with what we’ve got. If we can retrofit and revamp an existing structure as opposed to building new, we absolutely should. Historic buildings almost always fall under this category. The Empire State Building, the Treasury Building in DC, and Chicago’s Wrigley Building are all LEED for Existing Buildings projects. Beyond historic preservation, project teams all over the world are finding new uses for old and even dilapidated buildings. And for those of you who doubt just how flexible an existing building can be: Read how the former Pabst brewery in Milwaukee is being adapted to residential lofts and offices. Or check out this eco-campus in California, formerly a crumbling utility site.

Undoubtedly, we can’t always retrofit. New construction will continue. And in those scenarios, we need to push for new construction projects that are as sustainable and efficient as possible. This is why programs like LEED for New Construction have a central and much-needed place in the buildings realm. According to the report from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, it can take between 10 and 80 years for a new energy efficient building to overcome, through efficient operations, the climate change impacts created by its construction. Can you imagine how long it would take a traditional building to offset its impact?

LEED for New Construction is working to get that turnaround time to zero years. Credits in the rating system focus on minimizing construction-related emissions by sourcing materials locally and diverting waste sustainably. Looking forward to LEED 2012, we’ve added pilot credits that focus on life cycle assessment of building assemblies and materials. If we’re going to build new, we need to build smart. We need to build green.

Greening our existing buildings makes the best use of the structures we already have. Maximizing sustainability in our new construction projects is an equal priority.

At USGBC, we applaud – and encourage – both. LEED will continue to evolve to raise the bar in both of these markets.