Occupant Behavior: Five Keys to Meeting Environmental Performance Goals

Prepare to be shocked. Or at a minimum, informed. Occupancy behavior is holding us back from reaching environmental building performance goals. Not funding. Not awareness levels. Just behavior.

Every day, new Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified and energy-efficient facilities are built and/or modernized. But as eco-friendly a design may be, achieving performance goals is impossible without tenant participation. Therefore, methods and strategies to boost tenant compliance must become an integral part of green building, before and after occupancy.

Through interviews and “green” building research, I’ve compiled five ways to encourage behaviors that align with environmental performance goals.


In the design phase, architects, contractors and civil engineers work together to establish projections, calculate expected energy usage and determine environmental efficiency goals. Many high-performance buildings will host an eco-charrette, a kick-off meeting of sorts, including members of the design team along with the general contractor, maintenance staff, tenants and neighbors to collaboratively contribute ideas to the building’s design and functions.

By engaging tenants, as well as others involved in an eco-charrette, there’s a predisposition to understand the functionality and importance of established performance goals. Including future occupants, when possible, in planning processes is a valuable means to ensuring their commitment from the beginning stages.


Josh Radoff, Principal at YR&G Sustainability, believes that a holistic approach to encouraging occupant compliance is ideal.

“There’s a mistake of focusing solely on energy and water. While they’re important for a lot of people, they’re abstract ideas. It’s hard to get too far only focusing on energy,” says Radoff.

Some organizations are having success by offering holistic programs that emphasize overall health and well-being. These may include cooking classes, composting, instruction on sustainable foods and more. By establishing holistic ideals in an organization, the occupants become more likely to participate in energy-saving campaigns.

“Communicating about sustainability isn’t only about austerity. A holistic view is far more likely to bring people in,” concludes Radoff.


One innovation that’s demonstrating a positive response is a software product from Lucid called Building Dashboard. It’s a social energy management tool that helps occupants compare their energy use with their peers. It sets reference points, or benchmarks, encouraging compliance and competitiveness among tenants.

Lucid’s journey began in 2002 at one of the nation’s first modern green buildings at Oberlin College.

“Our goal was to engage occupants and visitors by showing real-time environmental performance of the building and landscape,” says Michael Murray, Lucid’s CEO and Co-Founder.

Lucid’s Building Dashboard has several interactive applications that are both engaging and user-friendly. For example, attractive graphs display current trends in energy and water use. They reveal real-time energy use, measuring kilowatt-hours, BTUs, gallons, carbon dioxide emissions and the actual cost of energy.

Building Dashboard also integrates social networking, allowing a a seamless connectivity to Facebook and Twitter, which makes occupancy usage accessible and publicly visible. Facility management software can be a valuable tool in managing environmental performance tools.


With social media integration and dashboard implementation, facility managers can create competitions between occupants, whether it be within a single building, among several buildings, or even between floors in a high-rise.

By clarifying goals, occupants are more likely to participate. For instance, a building may establish a goal to reduce the overall carbon footprint by 20%. With live data reporting in dashboard features, competitors can view up-to-date statuses on consumption levels in comparison to opponents.

Lucid shares an analogy that helps put this in perspective (and substantiates the idea):

“Consider the Prius Effect: when you can see how your car is performing in real time, you tend to fine-tune usage in order to improve, sustain and eventually surpass your current level of performance. This phenomenon is especially true when friends, family and spouses get involved, each competing to outperform the recent mile-per-gallon ‘winner.’ By analogy, the outcome of using Building Dashboard is like the social and psychological effect produced by using the energy monitor in a hybrid vehicle.”


Energy usage and measurements can seem abstract. And a lack of understanding often results in a lack of interest. By making things clear, polished and simple, occupants are more likely to embrace the idea of energy conservation.

Radoff explains, “It’s sociology. People do not respond well to austerity measures, but they do if it’s packaged in a way that’s appealing. Then it’s more likely to be well-received.”

Encourage engagement by providing tenants with the actual costs stemmed from energy use and charts demonstrating usage patterns. Demonstrate exactly how their habits affect overall consumption-and how changes in behavior can make a positive impact.

Once occupants are familiar with performance expectations, they can act as allies-always keeping their eyes on things that may need improvement or to suggest ways to become more efficient. This provides the opportunity for occupants to provide valuable feedback to facility managers.

Truth be told, occupant compliance in green-initiative projects is new territory that’s still being fine-tuned and heavily researched. Keeping in mind that all properties are unique, there’s not one answer that fully resolves occupancy issues. But with collaborative effort, environmental performance goals become far more achievable.

Do you manage a zero-energy or sustainable building? What strategies have you put in place to boost occupant participation in meeting environmental performances goals? What strategies have proven successful and which ones have not? Feel free to share your comments below.



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