Encyclopedia of Sustainability in Higher Education

Living Edition
| Editors: Walter Leal Filho

Energy Demand Reduction and Sustainable Development

  • Cristian Guzmán QuaharreEmail author
  • Edgar Enrique Miranda Sandoval
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-63951-2_127-1


Energy Education Reduction Sustainability University 


Energy is an important element for development. The assumption that greater technological and economical advances of society cause increasingly greater amounts of energy consumption must be considered true as each day more devices – which are powered by electricity – become part of the basic needs of people and/or industries; this causes an increase in energy consumption. Where does the energy that power our basic and comfort needs come from? This question is recurrently posed to university professors, students, and administrative staff. The answers obtained most often lack solid arguments and evidence on the importance of promoting efficient and intelligent energy consumption in university buildings, in order to position themselves as an educational facility with awareness, responsible with its environment, and a leading example for the development of the country.

Executive Summary

Energy demand in buildings represents 30–40% of global energy consumption (Mehreen and Sandhya 2014), which corresponds to 20% of anthropogenic CO2 equivalent emissions (WBCSD 2015). Higher education institutions must incorporate to existing programs courses that foster responsibility of sustainable energy and environmental management of all university center inhabitants. It is also necessary to create green offices in order to research and promote alternative energies and efficient energy use in harmony with the guidelines of sustainable development. Sustainable Development Goal number 7 of the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development states that universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy must be ensured. Higher education centers are like a substitute home for students, professors, and administrative staff; therefore it is important to adapt and promote coexistence in these spaces responsibly and taking into consideration respect for the environment.


Energy is a necessary good that allows us to stay communicated and informed of what is going on in any place on the planet; plus it has also become a means that allows us to obtain different levels of comfort. It is common for society not to notice the contribution of energy to said comfort which contributes to create inhabitable places, isolated from cold or heat, gives lighting at night, or powers multiple household appliances, all with a simple on or off button that activates any device or equipment that will satisfy human needs. In order to supply this demand, it is necessary to generate electricity, and when it comes from thermoelectric power plants that use nonrenewable resources like petroleum products, coal, natural gas, or LPG, it generates gases that pollute the atmosphere. Human beings are part of a vicious cycle which, without warning, contributes to the pollution of the planet. Air pollution has been defined as the accumulation in the air of substances in levels of concentration that cause provisional or permanent damage to humans, animals, plants, and property. There are five pollutants: carbon monoxide (CO), sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrous oxides (NOx), hydrocarbons, and particulate matter that contribute to more than 95% of the total amount of all pollutants emitted (Caselli, p. 39). Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the predominant anthropogenic greenhouse gas which affects the radioactive balance of Earth. This gas is used as reference to measure other greenhouse gases and therefore has a global warming potential of 1. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, changes in climate during the twenty-first century will be greater than those of the twentieth century (IPCC et al. 2007). The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a reference point for the assessment of our environment; goal 7 states that access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy must be ensured (Naciones Unidas, 2018). How will this be accomplished? Higher education facilities can provide creative ideas implemented in their buildings, for example. Another reference point is the Paris Agreement, which establishes greenhouse gas management goals through mitigation, adaptation, and resilience (IEA 2017). The following article describes how universities have worked to reduce energy consumption and include within their environmental strategy education on energy and sustainability, using its facilities as workshops, creating awareness and the role they play in this search.

Energy Demand

Energy demand in buildings represents 30–40% of global energy consumption (Mehreen and Sandhya 2014), which corresponds to 20% of anthropogenic CO2 equivalent emissions (WBCSD 2015). China, the United States, and India are among the countries that use the most energy to power their buildings (WBCSD 2008), thus contributing to climate change. Reducing energy consumption in buildings, especially in universities, presents an opportunity for positioning as an aware, conscious, and exemplary education facility regarding energy consumption management and through their experiences provide real-life examples for SDG compliance and the Paris Agreement.

According to Schwartz et al. (2017), the main energy consumption in buildings are air conditioning, lighting, and electronics. To calculate and analyze energy consumption, there are energy efficiency indicators; the International Energy Agency (IEA 2017) recommends prioritizing the most important actions to ensure building functioning at adequate comfort levels. Participation of all inhabitants is important when transitioning from analysis to action; a commitment from the entire group of inhabitants is necessary. In order to achieve a sustainable building, important obstacles need to be overcome, working under the following ideas: each person should know what and how valuable their contribution is, building staff should understand the importance of an efficient building, and managers and administrators should support the idea or action; in conclusion, stakeholder engagement and commitment must exist (WBCSD 2008).

Some of the recommendations of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development for overcoming barriers to reduce energy demand are access to information and education, economic instruments, management instruments, and concern for the environment (WBCSD 2008). An example of education and information is the awareness concerning energy labeling in household appliances which provides important information regarding energy usage of the device and thus enables the customer to compare two or more similar appliances prior to purchasing or using it.

To implement energy-saving measures in a building, it is important to work on reducing energy consumption and use efficient electric equipment. Working in energy efficiency leads us to two paths: passive and active measures. In the passive approach, measures are implemented to reduce building consumption without having to install electric or mechanic equipment to achieve it, for example, the location and placement of the building in order to optimize natural lighting and ventilation (de Vivienda and Territorio 2015). The active approach includes the implementation of efficient equipment to create a comfortable environment within the building, including artificial lighting, air conditioning and heating, and proximity sensors, among others. Clean Air-Cool Planet, organization that promotes climate change solutions, designed a program called Campus Carbon Calculator to calculate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions generated in universities (CA-CP 2010). After measuring the amount of emissions generated, actions that promote a reduction in GHG emissions can be implemented; energy consumption reduction is considered among these.

Low-Cost Measures

Some of the low-cost options to reduce energy consumption in universities are lighting, proximity sensors, and energy efficiency certified equipment, among others. A few of these are explained below:
  • Lighting: Changing incandescent lights to LED technology can save up to 80% of energy consumption plus have a longer duration period and higher levels of lumens.

  • Office equipment: Adjust the parameters of the appliances (like projectors, printers, and computers) to shut down automatically during non-office hours.

  • Air conditioning: In offices where there are electronic devices, air conditioning should be kept at optimal comfort temperatures. It is important to keep doors closed to avoid unnecessary work from the cooling system, suitable insulation of walls and windows, etc.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a voluntary program called Energy Star, for monetary savings and environmental care. This program includes energy labeling of appliances, where the manufacturer uses it to divulge that the appliance uses energy efficiently and thus protects the environment (Energy Star® 2018). Through its programs, Energy Star ensures a 30% reduction or more in electricity bill when using products with their logos (Energy Star® 2007). An efficiency model of a system using appliances with this type of labeling was carried out by Tulane University students. They equipped a dorm room with Energy Star appliances and energy-efficient practices in order to encourage better energy consumption habits and use it as an educational tool to promote energy efficiency and sustainability (Kahler 2003).

In 2018, the Energy Star program held an award ceremony for energy efficiency practices in buildings. Northwestern University received the 2018 Energy Star Partner of the Year Award; some of their highlighted accomplishments are achieving energy reduction of 12% per square meter compared to base year 2010, despite having added an additional 815,000 square meters to its campus (Yates 2018).

Energy Monitoring, Building Certification, and Policies

Monitoring energy consumption in universities is a useful tool for analyzing electricity consumption and serves as the basis for creating an energy efficiency policy. One of the advantages of monitoring energy consumption is to avoid penalties to the university from its energy supplier due to exceeding the hired energy amount. Energy consumption of a university is much higher than that of a household; therefore a contract must be made with an energy distributing company where a monthly net consumption of power can be set. Monitoring energy consumption will allow us to:
  • Program alarms when consumption peaks or there are anomalies in the system.

  • Have greater control of internal consumption within the university.

  • Calculate the carbon footprint of energy consumed.

  • Identify the hours with greatest consumption.

Monitoring within the university will help create a policy, which in turn will promote energy efficiency and the sustainable use of resources. Making universities sustainable is increasingly important, and there are many campuses around the world that have taken significant steps toward achieving this goal. One of several universities devoted to researching consumable energy systems, which also excels in this endeavor, is Stanford University through the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center (PEEC). Their research can be categorized as follows (Stanford University 2018a).

Researchers in charge of the project analyze and evaluate these three aspects in their search for solutions to reduce energy consumption of a building and the industry and thus contribute responsibly to sustainability (Fig. 1). Technologically speaking, “smart meters” are used, to help automate building installations. The following actions can be implemented to measure and at the same time influence the behavior of people: social media, work groups with defined goals, and an incentive system that promotes changes in consumer habits, which are reflected in energy savings.
Fig. 1

Research aspects. (Source: Created using PEEC data)

In 2007, the University of Notre Dame created an office that promotes sustainability, the university currently has nine buildings with LEED certification. LEED certification is a program that certifies green buildings and is globally recognized. The university has accomplished the creation of programs to promote efficient use of energy through the “Megawatt Madness” event which helps promote reductions in electricity consumption, events to promote recycling, and an office to promote green offices, aimed at students from campus.

In its environmental policy, Stanford University includes the following actions: incorporating environmental education and energy efficiency programs into the different curricula, integration of environmental consciousness in campus – like “zero waste” programs – and energy efficiency improvement in buildings and solar photovoltaic panels.

Colorado State University has been recognized for using sustainability and energy efficiency in its buildings; it was the first university to obtain five Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE 2017). AASHE recognizes institutions around the world that have good sustainability practices; some of the evaluation criteria are campus powered by renewable energy, solid waste management, water usage, building design, and construction and innovation, among others.

The University of Maryland implemented a Climate Action Plan (CAP) and achieved desired results, among which are a 27% reduction of their carbon footprint from 2005 to 2015, first semester program on the challenges and opportunities of sustainability, 20% reduction in energy consumption, and 86% of their energy from renewable sources for the year 2016 (University of Maryland 2009).

To this day only four universities have a five-star certification granted by AASHE (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education 2018a): Colorado State University, Stanford University, the University of California Irvine, and the University of New Hampshire. In the area of innovation, a program implemented by Colorado State University can be highlighted; they developed a bicycle program with the goal of reducing passenger car use and promoting bicycle culture in and out of campus (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education 2018b). The environmental policy of Colorado State University aims to power its facilities using 100% clean energy sources by the year 2030; it currently has 26 LEED certified buildings (Colorado State University 2018).

University Laboratories

Energy consumption in laboratories is usually three to four times higher per square meter than that of an office (HEEPI 2011). Implementing sustainable practices in laboratories has shown 20% to 40% energy saving (U.S. Department of Energy). The United States Department of Energy (DOE) has created a program to reduce energy use by 20% in 10 years or less; the program is called Smart Labs Accelerator and it is led by energy efficiency experts from all over the country. The objectives of the program are to divulge standards for identifying energy cost reduction opportunities, promoting technology improvement, and recommendations to achieve energy efficiency, among others. The University of California, Irvine (UCI), has reduced 50% of energy use in their laboratories through the Smart Labs Program (University of California, Irvine 2016). S-Lab is another nonprofit initiative from England, whose mission is to promote low energy consumption, handling, and design in laboratories, mainly for research facilities in universities (S-Lab 2011).

Harvard University has created a program called Green Lab Certification (GLC), which promotes sustainable laboratories within their facilities with the objective of fulfilling its 2015–2020 sustainability plan (Harvard University 2018). Among the highlights of its environmental policy is the implementation of energy reduction measures – which has resulted in over $9 million in savings a year – and the monitoring of energy consumption per building as can be observed in Fig. 2. Some of their outstanding solutions are solar energy generation of over 1 MW, LEED-certified buildings, and sustainability offices with expert staff and students who promote sustainability.
Fig. 2

Energy consumption based on building type, Harvard University. (Source: Harvard University Sustainability)

Based on these findings, it is evident that energy technology is now seen as a sustainable and safe option for the energy system, but its implementation is still limited by lack of policies that promote its use. The annual report titled Energy Technology Perspectives 2017 states that energy systems planning tools need to be developed and regulations that support energy systems implemented and greater political participation is necessary (International Energy Agency 2017). Lack of integrated energy systems with long-term policies that enable the adoption of energy efficiency technologies in buildings through incentives that facilitate efficient systems and a reduction in polluting emissions. Lack of robust policies that guide the energy market will not promote the use of efficient technologies in the long term, because currently there is not the impulse to be implemented (Energy Efficiency in Buildings: How to Accelerate Investments? 2017). In relation to the COP21 and the SDGs, the International Energy Agency (IEA) states that the governments should create visionary political systems that promote an energy future and fulfills the commitments of the Paris Agreement. New political mechanisms should guarantee an energy-efficient and sustainable transition to be achieved with cooperation and international programs that seek to fulfill the established environmental goals.

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL by its name in Spanish) launched a program called Base Indicators for Energy Efficiency (BIEE) with the goal of establishing a methodology to analyze energy efficiency progress in countries at a political level (Carpio and Coviello 2013). Some of the obstacles mentioned are: the lack of continuity of institutions that promote energy efficiency in effect, causes professionals to search other areas, a general deficiency of knowledge in the topic, limited funding to promote efficient equipment and efficient projects, consumption habits versus comfort and lack of initiative from relevant sectors to undertake energy reduction policies or strategies.


Energy is a necessary good that allows us to stay communicated and informed of what happens anywhere on the planet, and it has become a means that allows us to access different levels of comfort. It is common for society not to notice the contribution of energy to everyday life. The electronic device market offers accessories and equipment which are powered by electricity, which causes an increase in energy demand. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development states that some of the ways to overcome the barriers to energy reduction are access to information and education, economic instruments, administrative instruments, and concern for the environment. University buildings are not alien to this situation. It is an ideal place for generating information as in the same place live people with different customs, habits, and ways of living. University centers represent a substitute home for students, professors, and administrative staff.

One of several universities devoted to researching consumable energy systems, which also excels in this endeavor, is Stanford University through the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center (PEEC). Their research revolves around three categories (Stanford University 2018b): technology, behavior intervention, and data assessment. These are three axes on which work is required in order to achieve substantial change that will favor sustainability of buildings.

The first steps to achieving reduction of energy consumption is the creation of a voluntary committee that establishes idea debate and analysis which help establish strategies or actions that promote shared responsibility for care of the environment among all community members. The committee should be led by academics, which, along with directors from different university areas, establish the basis to create a relevant sustainable policy, after having involved interested students in the creation of an operative work plan and innovation in solutions. Within the university, an interdisciplinary program that integrates environmental knowledge and energy efficiency, so that the student is aware that the environmental factor must be taken when developing professional projects. University buildings must establish energy efficiency measurement parameters and disseminate the results among all inhabitants; it is important to generate awareness, discussion, and debate on the measurements disclosed, with the objective of adapting the everyday vocabulary of people with these terms. The policy must include strategies with incentives that promote efficiency: like using bicycles as transportation to and from the university, using reusable bags as a substitute to plastic, using efficient appliances that are marked or certified for being efficient, and using appliances that enable individual carbon footprint measurement and shared spaces. The need to invest in energy efficiency in university buildings involves all those who inhabit it. The way of acting of the university must reflect good practices that promote spaces free of contamination and models to replicate in other environments. Undoubtedly, universities must incorporate green offices with the objective of researching and promoting alternative strategies and the use of energy efficiency in harmony with sustainable development guidelines.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cristian Guzmán Quaharre
    • 1
    Email author
  • Edgar Enrique Miranda Sandoval
    • 1
  1. 1.IREGalileo UniversityGuatemalaGuatemala

Section editors and affiliations

  • Erin Hopkins
    • 1
  1. 1.Virginia TechBlacksburgUSA