Authored by: Lindsey Forsberg, May 1, 2018
As part of the Architecture 2030 Challenge to reduce carbon emissions and energy use, architecture firms commit to the goal of having all new buildings, developments, and major renovations reach carbon-neutrality by 2030. Achieving this goal requires firms to look both externally as they work with clients, and internally at their own energy and carbon use. A little over a year ago, LHB committed to reduce in-house electricity use and formed an energy management team to lead the charge. Their first target? Plug loads.
Plug loads refers to anything in an office that is literally plugged in, such as printers, desktop computers, and telephones. Electricity for lighting, central heating and cooling, ventilation, and plumbing is therefore not included. Plug load can make up a meaningful percentage of office electricity use because workers often leave their equipment plugged in and running around the clock, making it a good target for energy use reduction campaigns. LHB has been involved in plug load research for almost five years – you can read more about that research in this blog post and this website.
Throughout 2017, LHB’s Energy Management team used social and technical interventions to reduce plug loads at the Minneapolis office, from implementing computer power management and providing advanced power strips to encouraging employees to turn off computers in the evenings and on weekends. Because of these efforts, the office achieved a 19.8% plug load reduction, just short of its 20% goal, as shown in the graph at the top of the article.
Looking at monthly data – as shown in the graph below – plug load energy use decreased throughout 2017. These reductions are statistically significant, especially when normalized for hours worked per month, which showed a 48% decrease from January to December.
The Energy Management team tested a strategy over Memorial Day weekend to reduce the weekend plug load. An email was sent to remind employees to turn off their computers before they left for the holiday weekend; this had a significant and sustained impact. The graph below shows weekend and holiday days from January of 2017 through mid-April 2018. After the reminder email, weekend plug load dropped and stayed low, indicating that not only did employees turn off their computers over Memorial Day weekend, they continued this practice even without ongoing reminders.
LHB’s Duluth office is also working on plug load reductions and is currently participating in a field study of a new reduction strategy as a part of our team’s ongoing work with Seventhwave and CEE to research effective solutions. Look for a future update on our blog upon completion of this study. Given the success of the Memorial Day email reminder, employing more behavior change strategies will be top of the list for 2018 in all of LHB’s offices.