A key part of any efficiency improvement process is to map the physical opportunities for improvement. Every single building in the UK and the physical systems within them have a unique set of constraints on what its occupiers can do to save energy and carbon. For example, there is little point in engaging people around not using the lifts in an estate of buildings where some of them might be arranged entirely on one floor.

We mapped the physical opportunities within DECC to guide the workshop process. We wanted to bring sound underpinning of building physics to steer this process toward success, but also to put the building users at the very centre of it. Beyond, we wanted to find out from the building users which were the best opportunities — from their point of view — to save energy and carbon.

We started with some work done before at DECC, including an energy evaluation report put together by the Usable Buildings Trust. We built on this with measurements and modelling of, for example, refrigerator and computer workstation energy use, giving us the numbers we needed to communicate more context to users.

From previous experience, we have learned that people without specific expertise will often enthusiastically suggest energy-saving ideas that might not save much, if any, energy. This is not a bad thing, and actually encouraged early stage engagement, from which we took these non-expert users on a natural learning journey and retained their attention. While DECC is populated in part by energy and carbon experts, a large number of users have non- energy or carbon specific roles.

For example, many suggestions came in about using the stairs rather than lifts, and in DECC’s case we noted from the building evaluation that the impact would be minor. Some suggestions came in about installing kinetic flooring which — while having some value as a awareness-raising tool — would not make any significant impact in DECC’s overall energy use.

This provided an opportunity to share information among the community. All of the several-hundred questions that were asked received a response from DECC’s Sustainability and Estates team in a document that was distributed through DECC’s internal communications channels.

Having collected from DECC staff the measures that they could think of, we ran some numbers over the suggestions. In line with the ambition of the trial, we did not attempt to run full life-cycle evaluations of potential behaviour changes (which would have been too expensive to justify) but instead estimated impacts using a few alternative modelling approaches to arrive at a reasonable number.

We had deliberately not set a clear scope on where savings could be made, which led to a wide variety of scopes being revealed by users. Some included travel and food impacts, and some focussed on direct savings in the building. Some targeted education and some were more action-based, and some were purely physical changes. Some suggestions revealed an opportunity to communicate better how the building already worked, like the suggestion of installing LEDs in the lifts (which had in fact already been done) or heating the building less in the summer (the building is not heated in the summer, when substantial energy is spent cooling it).

One striking feature of this part of the process was the way in which users responded to our request for challenges and concerns. In DECC’s 3-8 Whitehall Place Headquarters, the greatest of these was the air-conditioning. A good number of users reported feeling either too hot or too cold, and we had many conversations about the reasons for this and what might be done about it — even when users just saw one of us in the cafeteria. We determined that providing a complete fix for this would stretch the scope of the project, but wanted to engage with the subject. The purpose of Thermopeople was to address this massive priority for users, and start to investigate how it could be addressed in a future project.

Leave a Comment

Back to chapter Discussion »