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For building operators, what difference does a target make?


There is increasing recognition, both in the literature and from policy-makers, of the influence that operations personnel have over the energy efficiency of large complex buildings and the potential to save energy by providing them with clear and timely feedback. An implicit but poorly founded assumption built into most studies of energy efficiency feedback is that participants have a goal to save energy. Often this is not true and even among those who seek to achieve savings, there is much variability in how competing goals are prioritized. In this study, operators of 110 large office buildings received daily feedback informing them about their buildings’ energy efficiency compared with an “expected” (baseline) level determined by reference to a statistical model that normalized for weather and other factors outside of their control. Variances between expected and actual performance gave them signals about the impact of their actions on energy use. After a period, the focus of the daily messages was switched for 60 of the operators from a baseline profile to the “best” normalized performance observed previously. The introduction of this daily “target” profile was directly associated with additional savings. It was noted that engagement with the daily feedback increased, even though participants had no role in target setting. This study has implications for the design of information feedback methods for building operators and suggests that by giving them an awareness of the divergence between their building’s performance and its efficiency improvement potential, a positive spiral of increasing energy efficiency, expertise, and engagement can emerge.

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  1. NB only a subset of the 110 buildings participated for the full 1360-day lead-up and approximately half (n = 60) were involved in the “target” intervention.

  2. REF stands for Rapid Efficiency Feedback, the name Buildings Alive’s daily feedback service is known by.

  3. A total of 140 buildings were initially earmarked for the study, but 30 of these were excluded from consideration and not considered suitable for a quasi-control group because of changes in occupancy, management, etc.


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Roussac, A.C., Huang, H. For building operators, what difference does a target make?. Energy Efficiency 13, 459–471 (2020).

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  • Feedback
  • Commercial buildings
  • Targets
  • Building operators
  • Behavior
  • Motivation