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Getting Residents and Tenants to Unplug

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, plug and process loads (PPLs) account for about one-third of a typical building’s energy use.

By Todd Feist
SUSTAIN Domenico Loia 272251 Unsplash

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, plug and process loads (PPLs) account for about one-third of a typical building’s energy use. A NASA study found that PPLs in high-efficiency buildings may account for more than half of their total energy consumption.

Consider these tips to help reduce PPL energy consumption:

  • Recommend and use efficient equipment and appliances, such as those with the ENERGY STAR® label.
  • Provide information to residents or tenants about APS devices. Check with the local utility about the availability of incentives for APSs.
  • Think about your audience. Tenant companies may have different perspectives on energy efficiency according to industry, mission, customer base and other factors. Be aware of which tenant companies have sustainability initiatives. These companies may be more receptive to a plug load management program. Prioritize your engagement and tailor your messaging appropriately.
  • Select the right communication methods for the audience. Engagement methods including workshops, feedback sessions, email reminders, competitions, incentives and signage should be varied and deployed strategically.
  • Leverage existing resources. The IREM Certified Sustainable Property program includes templates and tools for resident and tenant engagement on energy and water efficiency, health and wellness, recycling and purchasing.
  • Determine if submetering by tenant spaces is possible. This will depend on space configurations, electrical infrastructure, cost and other aspects.
    Plan your engagement program in advance so that you are persistent but not excessive in your messaging.
  • Share how management is doing its part by presenting information on the property’s sustainability feature

If you are trying to improve whole-building energy performance, those copiers, refrigerators and computers throughout the property remain a black hole of energy consumption—or, depending on your perspective, a new frontier that promises greater gains. You just have to get residents and tenants to unplug. Is this possible, and if so, what plug load management strategies work best?

Engagement vs. Technology

Resident and tenant engagement has long been a facet of sustainability programs. As in most aspects of life and business, technology can also provide effective solutions. A research experiment put both strategies to the test.

The Institute for Market Transformation, the District of Columbia Sustainable Energy Utility, The Tower Companies and other partners worked with full-floor tenants in a D.C. office building. One floor focused on tenant engagement to encourage behavioral changes to reduce plug loads. Another floor employed Advanced Power Strips (APS), which power down equipment when not in use.

The study found that the tenant engagement strategies had no effect on energy consumption, according to data from submeters. The APS strategy—ultimately recommended as the best approach to reducing plug loads—resulted in a nine percent decrease in energy consumption.

Energy Chickens

Another strategy is gamification. A research team from Pennsylvania State University created a game called “Energy Chickens.” In this game, the health of animated chickens improves or declines depending on device-level energy consumption by office workers playing the game.

Average energy consumption declined by 13 percent for those study participants tending to their chickens. At the conclusion of the study, 69 percent indicated that the game helped them be more energy-conscious. A pilot is underway in an effort to commercialize Energy Chickens, but the research results indicate that gamification can be an effective tool in managing plug loads.

Engagement Tips

Aside from a novel approach like Energy Chickens, structure, personalization and persistence in resident or tenant engagement, along with energy-efficient equipment, have the best chance at success.

Journal of Property Management

Todd Feist ( is sustainability program manager at IREM Headquarters in Chicago.

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