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«What Inspires Action? Understanding Motivations for Improving Building Energy Efficiency April 2015 Report prepared by Debbie Slobe Managing Program ...»

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What Inspires Action?

Understanding Motivations for

Improving Building Energy


April 2015

Report prepared by Debbie Slobe

Managing Program Director

Resource Media

Table of Contents










In January and February 2015, Resource Media and the Seattle Office of Sustainability and Environment (OSE) collaborated on a research project to better understand what motivates and influences Seattle building owners and managers to make energy-saving improvements to their properties. The project involved interviewing and conducting focus groups with 23 building owners, managers and energy service providers. Interviews were conducted with 10 owners, managers and vendors with extensive experience leading energy improvement projects in all types of buildings – commercial, residential, institutional and small business. Focus groups were conducted with 13 owners and managers of lower-performing commercial and multifamily residential properties larger than 20,000 sq.


Focus group participants were drawn from OSE’s records of properties that had complied with Seattle’s benchmarking and reporting ordinance.

The residential focus group was primarily comprised of managers of nonprofit, senior and lowincome housing complexes.

In addition to discussing their experiences and motivations around improving building energy efficiency, focus group participants were asked to review and react to a hypothetical building energy performance profile based on their and comparable buildings’ energy benchmarking data. A sample profile can be found at the end of this report.

Results of this research will help the City of Seattle improve efforts to encourage building owners and managers who have benchmarked their buildings to pursue energy-saving projects or operational improvements. Other cities, utilities and organizations working to engage building owners and managers in benchmarking and energy-saving programs will also benefit.

This project was made possible by a grant from a private, Seattle-based foundation.


#1: Personalize building energy profiles as much as possible The research suggests that building owners and managers want more personalized information about their specific building’s energy performance and opportunities for savings, and are less interested in how other buildings are performing if they do not feel the buildings represent their peers. Providing building owners with individual building energy performance profiles is a good first step, but as the focus groups found, the version they saw didn’t give enough personalized, actionable information or comparisons to buildings they trusted were their peers.

Possible strategies for personalizing the profiles revealed in the focus groups include:

Building information:

Add more building characteristics such as age, size, occupancy, usage type, number of computers, number of floors, etc.

Include energy use trends.

Show the building’s current energy use compared to previous years. Also, make the date more prominent on the report so recipients know what year the energy report is based on.

Translate energy performance metrics. Consider a way to translate the energy performance metrics (Energy Use Intensity, or EUI) into terms that the industry already understands, or in a better visual way to help them quickly understand their building’s performance. Owners, managers and tenants generally talk in price per square foot, so a good metric might be energy costs per square foot.

Rebate information:

Personalize rebate information. Show a few rebate programs that buildings with similar characteristics have participated in and the average energy and money savings achieved, plus information on how to take advantage of the rebates and who to contact.

Show examples of other buildings like theirs taking action and saving energy and money (see recommendation #2 below) Show savings potential estimates for their specific building or building type. For example, “if you improved to meet the average performance of buildings like yours, you could save $x/per sq.

ft./year or x% per sq.

ft./year”, or, “for a building your size, a 1 percent improvement could equal $x per sq. ft./year savings.” Put rebates/incentive program information on page one.

Call to action:

Add a city staffer’s name and contact information right on the profile for recipients to follow up with.

Tailor message for good energy performers. Instead of including a generic “take action” message on every report, for good performers, list energy-saving programs that a good performing building could benefit from. List opportunities for sharing success stories and/or information on participating in recognition programs (see recommendation #3 below).

“We want trend numbers.

What direction are we moving?

That’s what we want to see.” “I want to know how I’m doing now compared to last year.

Am I improving, staying the same or going down hill?” “If we get these (profiles), let’s get 3-4 specific things we can work


‘Hey we have new toilets and LEDs, let’s talk.’” “I want specific actions, not just ‘Call SCL [Seattle City Light]’” “Add a person’s name.

If you customize it, it feels like you won’t go into a black hole.” “It would be smart for it to say, ‘we did a retrofit of gas boilers in similar buildings of your age and we had savings of this’ – a case study – something more similar to your building so it was a teaser on how much money you might save for doing that.” “You could take this score and show if you moved to average, you’d save this much, if you moved to the top 25th percentile, you’d save this much and personalize and monetize the savings.” “Comparing myself to every other building in Seattle, that doesn’t do me any good. We want to narrow it down by size, age or surface area of building and what kind of users you have. So you are looking for all this data to really fine tune to get an idea if you are really inefficient in a way you can deal with it or is just it because something you can’t change like surface area of building or current tenant usage.” “It loses credibility if it says ‘take action’ all the time.” Photo: Canadian Pacific/Flickr Opportunities to explore Test more personalized version It may be impractical or costly for OSE to produce and distribute 3,300+ highly individualized, printed or emailed building energy reports. As a starting point, OSE may want to create a more personalized profile for a specific property type and test it again in another focus group made up of owners and managers of that specific type of building. It will also be important for OSE to assess the top 3 to 4 items in a report that are desired.

Although users might request “more details,” this desire needs to be balanced with an effective action-oriented communication piece that is understandable to a wide audience of property managers and owners. The City also needs to be careful within the context of its existing benchmarking ordinance to not get so granular with data as to disclose private information.

Gather additional feedback on current version The focus groups provided great clues as to how to improve the profiles, but it would be useful to hear from more owners and managers before the City invests too much time in revising them.

The City should consider conducting an online survey or additional focus groups of recipients of profiles in the spring of 2015 to get a better handle on how much and what kind of personalization and changes are desired. Additional focus groups would also be helpful in getting a better understanding on how to best translate EUI information into metrics and graphics that the building industry can more easily understand.

Explore developing an online building energy platform As an alternative or compliment to the profiles, one way to create personalized, yet scalable energy performance profiles is to put them online in an anonymous or password-protected dashboard-type application or website for owners and managers to pick and choose themselves what building characteristics and information they want to see.

Thanks to the City’s benchmarking ordinance, it has access to energy use information on 3,300+ buildings in Seattle. This makes the City uniquely positioned to partner with an outside developer and funder to create a user-friendly online dashboard for owners, managers or other parties responsible for benchmarking the building to look up their properties’ energy use and compare it to other buildings anonymously by size, type, age, occupancy, footprint and other factors they deem relevant and that the City has on file. To direct users to relevant rebate programs and professional services, users could answer a short series of questions or provide information on their needs and interests (e.g.

check the


“I’m looking for lighting rebates”) that would lead them to information on rebates, grants, professional organizations, audit assistance, or other resources applicable to their building type and needs.

To drive owners to the site when completing their benchmarking for the year, they could get a thank you email from the City with a message/link to the website prompting them to learn more (e.g.

“See how your building stacks up and find ways to lower your energy bill – visit MyBuildingProfile.com”).

Benchmarking help desk staff – who personally assist more than half of the buildings required to comply - could also let people know about the site and the help desk voice mail and email signatures could include messages about it. The site could also be promoted on OSE’s benchmarking newsletter, Seattle City Light (SCL) and Puget Sound Energy (PSE) communications and utility bills, and through professional organizations (see list at end) in particular local chapters of the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) and International Facility Manager Association (IFMA).

#2: Find and share examples of similar buildings saving energy and money The proof, they say, is in the pudding. For owners and managers, this means that for the promise of energy savings to be believable, it needs to be backed up by examples of real owners and managers like them actually saving. Focus group participants said they would be very interested to see what others are doing and how they did it.

“If I see someone saying, ‘This is how we got our tenants to use 20 percent less energy and here’s the carrots we used’, I’m gonna click on that.” “Tell me – this is how this group saved $400 per unit, then yes I’d call.” “Provide an example of how Southwest Housing saved. Real time examples would be great.” “It would be nice to have a case study each month that you could read through with details.” “You could learn exactly what you wanted to know if you were talking to people that actually dealt with the problem. That person would have seen it hands on and used it, it would be great.” Opportunities to explore Create mini profiles To meet this demand for real stories of people in similar buildings/situations undertaking energy-saving projects, the City could partner with an outside organization and funder to create mini-profiles on a variety of different types of buildings and businesses (see ConEdison example below) that have undergone energy-savings projects and share those widely on the OSE, SCL and PSE websites, and on the suggested “MyBuildingProfile.com” website above, and through the City’s social media channels.

These profiles could be made available to building and energy efficiency industry organizations such as Northwest Energy Efficiency Council (NEEC), Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA), Seattle 2030 District, and local chapters of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), BOMA and IFMA and others to share and post on their sites and use in e-newsletters and social media channels. Profiles could also be integrated into the OSE benchmarking e-newsletter and workshop presentations and materials. They could also be placed in trade publications as paid advertising.

–  –  –

#3: Help connect owners/managers with others who have already taken the plunge Thanks to Seattle’s benchmarking ordinance, which impacts 3,300+ properties, and Seattle owning and operating its own electric utility and running its own benchmarking help desk, the City has many building owner and manager contacts. Focus group participants said that they were keen to learn about what other building owners and managers are doing and often seek each other’s recommendations on programs, products and vendors.

But, many have little time to connect or know when/where to make those connections.

“Knocking on doors trying to reach the owner is just such a low hit rate that there has to be a better way. Peer-to-peer and through existing trusted relationships is unexplored territory that has real opportunity.” Focus group participants and interviewees listed a number of professional organizations they rely on to stay connected and keep informed, in particular the local BOMA chapter for commercial owners and managers. But the list is huge and varied. And, for multifamily residential market, there are fewer options and no BOMA-like equivalent.

Owners/managers in the multifamily residential focus group were literally jumping out of their seats to exchange cards and contact information.

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