A whole conference about conserving energy in buildings through behavior change? Wow!

June 16, 2011 at 5:38 pm Leave a comment

Last month the Green Team at the Supportive Housing Network had a very special opportunity. We were invited to attend a three-day retreat at the Garrison Institute, the beautiful complex (a former monastary) that you see on the right. The retreat-cum-conference aimed to bring together thinkers and stakeholders around a key question: How can we reduce fossil fuel energy use in buildings by changing our behavior, in addition to our systems, our building envelopes and our energy sources? 

This question was right up our alley. At the Supportive Housing Network of New York, we’ve been helping our members control utility prices with energy efficiency through our Weatherization Assistance Program partnership with the Association for Energy Affordability. And now we’ve turned our sights to energy conservation as well, recognizing that utility savings, crucial to our members in this economic climate, may not materialize if energy and water are wasted. The Green Team has dived into a pilot program to help supportive housing tenants learn how to use resources responsibly, a skill that can not only improve their comfort but empower them to live independently if they move to non-supportive housing in the future. As we develop and implement the pilot program, we find ourselves with countless questions about the most effective ways to encourage conservation behaviors. We entered the Garrison Institute  retreat eager to hear from those who have been down this path before.

One of the most interesting aspects of the conference was that the participants were drawn from relatively diverse corners of the energy-conservation universe — building scientists and engineers, large commercial property owners, green building policy advocates, behavioral scientists, non-profit program managers, supportive housing owners/managers.

Several great speakers presented their research, thoughts and experiences about behavioral change, including Karen Ehrhardt-Martinez at UC-Boulder’s Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute, Shahzeen Attari at the Columbia University Center for Research on Environmental Decisions and Linda Mandolini, Executive Director of Eden Housing. There were a number of important takeaway messages, and I’d like to discuss some of them at length, in future blog posts, so for now I’ll just list the gist of them:

  • Behaviors change attitudes, not the other way around
  • Behavior changes could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 9 percent, in a realistic scenario
  • Creating financial incentives for energy conservation can backfire by diminishing the power of other motivations

Presentations and group discussions went on from 8 am to 9 pm, making the retreat a breeding ground for big ideas and new partnerships among participants. In between events, we were invited to take part in the Institute’s spiritual side: Meditation classes were offered in the morning, and we could explore the extensive grounds in between sessions. Wine and cheese closed each evening and we dined on fresh local food for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

All in all, the Garrison retreat was an invaluable opportunity to step out of our day-to-day routine and ask how we can do what we do better. Now that we’re back, we’re trying to integrate what we’ve learned into our new pilot program and our other initiatives. I’ll be blogging more about it throughout the summer!


Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Upcoming events – June 6, 2011 Upcoming events – June 28, 2011

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