The Department of Energy estimates that 25 percent to 30 percent of all energy used in public schools across the U.S. is wasted.

Comfort + Convenience = Waste

Colby May | Terracon

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that an active energy conservation program can reduce energy consumption by as much as 30 percent.

The attitude towards energy and the environment is sometimes centered around our comfort and convenience instead of reducing consumption. We keep the thermostat at 68 degrees during summer months because we are comfortable. We keep the air conditioning running when we leave because it takes too long to condition to our desired temperature when we come back.  We throw away a plastic bottle because it’s easier than walking the extra 20 feet to the recycling bin. We keep our lights on when we leave the room because it’s too inconvenient to turn them off. We keep our computers on to save 30 seconds of time to reboot.

Behavior makes a difference. Attitude makes a difference. A simple and small change in our daily practice makes a big difference. If just 10 percent of U.S. teachers begin to turn their lights off, turn computers off, recycle, adjust their thermostats by 2 degrees Fahrenheit, it would make a substantial difference. With over 3.4 million teachers in the United States, making small adjustments in behaviors and attitudes could result in a significant reduction in energy consumption, as well as school budgets.

ESA Energy Systems Associates, a Terracon Company, has utilized three programs (P.O.W.E.R. ©, Watt Watchers and Energy Management) to modify behavior when assisting schools with energy management consulting and commissioning.

  • P.O.W.E.R. ©, or Protecting Our World’s Energy and Resources, is a program designed for students at the high school and middle school levels. It leverages an existing student club or organization to assist in changing attitudes and wasteful practices in a number of ways including energy audits, awareness projects and more.  The goal is to equip these student clubs with very basic energy audit practices to carry out.  For example, students can place “turn off your light” stickers on light switches, encourage teachers to use half their lights, or encourage teachers to turn off TVs when not in use.  Another example is the thermostat.  When a teacher places a microwave, computer monitor or TV close to the thermostat, it gives the thermostat a false reading and causes discomfort and energy waste in the classroom.  ESA trains the students with basic practices then creates a plan to carry out throughout the campus.  
  • Watt Watchers ( is a similar program, but is designed for elementary students. The elementary students perform student patrols, and give “tickets” to teachers who have left their lights on upon leaving the classroom.  The Watt Watcher teams also promote awareness throughout the campus through announcements, poster contests and more.  The goal is to create an aware mind first in the students and then throughout the campus.  Watt Watchers is a program that has been around since 1985 and has been implemented in more than 645 school districts around the state of Texas.
  • Energy Management is focused on equipping and empowering administrations, teachers and maintenance and custodial staff with common sense practices through workshops, energy audits, master plans and other services.  One example workshop focuses on energy efficient operations of the facilities and the other workshop focuses on the business side of sustainability.  They have common goals to empower and equip the school district staff, starting with the superintendent, on the importance of energy efficiency.  If the staff believes in the program the students will follow suit.

The goal of these behavioral modification programs is to create a team environment for working together to make a difference. Round Rock ISD in Round Rock, Texas, has been involved in this program for more than four years and has a 75 percent participation rate with active student patrols in their elementary schools. A school district’s second largest budget item behind wages is energy, and this program has made a positive financial and environmental impact on the district.  Lisa Ingalls, the Energy Management Specialist at Round Rock ISD states, “It has been exciting to see student and campus involvement improve year after year.”

The best strategy starts with us. If we modify our behavior, even in the slightest ways, we will make a difference.
  1. Turning off the lights in one classroom for one hour keeps more than two pounds of pollutants out of the environment.
  2. A dishwasher uses 80 percent of its energy just to heat the water.
  3. TVs use electricity even if it is turned off.
  4. The typical Americans throw away 60 pounds of plastic packing each year.
  5. Changing thermostat temperature by 1 degree affects cost by 1.5 percent.
  6. A ¼ inch crack under your front door will waste as much energy as a 2” X 2” hole in your wall.
  7. If we all installed ”low-flow” showerheads, we could save billions of gallons of water every year.
  8. A 10-minute shower can use more than 50 gallons of water.
  9. Compact fluorescent bulbs last five times longer than a conventional bulb and uses 70 percent less energy.
  10. Turning lights out two hours earlier each day at your school can save as much as $500 per month or $5,000 each school year.

Bluebonnet Elementary School

Blackland Prairie Elementary School – Round Rock ISD

Colby May, C.E.M., is an energy consultant with ESA Energy Systems Associates, a Terracon Company.  ESA specializes in energy management services and mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) design.  Terracon is an employee-owned engineering consulting firm with more than 2,700 employees providing geotechnical, environmental, construction materials and facilities services from more than 100 offices in 39 states nationwide.

The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag

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