Rock the Watt: Lessons Learned From a Conservation Campaign at Pacific Northwest National Lab

Kathleen Judd, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

In 2014, PNNL's Sustainability Program team launched Rock the Watt, a 3-month energy conservation campaign to promote sustainable behavior in lab and office spaces. The campaign design was guided by DOE-FEMP's institutional and behavioral change research. The team established priority opportunities through lab assessments and metering select equipment. Examples of actions targeted in offices included choosing energy-saving computer power settings and eliminating personal refrigerators and printers. Example actions targeted in labs included closing fume hood sashes, installing timers, and chilling up ULT freezers.

A primary strategy used to influence occupants was assigning a local building sustainability champion (BSC). The BSC was asked to send tailored messages about conservation opportunities to fellow occupants, conduct bi-weekly walk-throughs, and talk with and recognize those who took action. To help the BSC be successful, we provided training and resources, such as an energy action checklist, draft email messages, and posters. The sustainability team also encouraged action through campus-wide messages and funding incentives provided through PNNL's Sustainability Pay$ program.

To evaluate the impact of Rock the Watt, we considered actions taken by the BSCs and occupants. Most BSCs followed through on requests to email messages and talk informally with occupants; they were less likely to complete checklists during walk-throughs, making documentation of actions taken challenging. About 250 occupant actions were documented in the 14 participating buildings, and were estimated save roughly 115,000 kWh when annualized. This likely represents the minimum impact. Occupants also offered over 50 unsolicited suggestions to their BSCs, many of which resulted in direct savings (e.g. de-lamping over-lit hallways).

The campaign demonstrated that having local-level advocates leverage social networks can be effective. In office buildings, building-level advocates could be influential, however in laboratory buildings we learned that assigning lab-specific advocates could have been more effective. Finding the right advocate takes time and personal outreach, but improves the chances of having a sustained impact.

Finally, measuring change and actual energy savings is necessary it can help motivate people to take action and show the ROI of behavior campaigns but is difficult when various small actions are distributed across many buildings. The PNNL team developed a tracking tool to document actions and established standard savings estimates to use when measurements were not feasible but this was time-consuming. We are exploring ways to address this challenge with building interval meter data.

Learning Objectives

  • Participants will be able to design, implement, and evaluate behavior-based conservation programs in a campus environment using an established research-based framework. They will be able anticipate challenges associated with evaluating actions and impacts.
  • The PNNL case study will illustrate how behavioral science theory can be translated into practical strategies that participants can use to influence conservation behavior in office and laboratory spaces.
  • The PNNL case study will demonstrate the effectiveness and limitations of using building level advocates to promote conservation behavior in offices and laboratories.
  • Participants will acquire concrete examples of promotional graphics and resources that they can integrate into their own energy conservation campaigns.


Kathleen Judd is a researcher and technical project manager with a focus on the sustainability performance of buildings, organizations, and individuals who are a part of these systems. She works with DOE and other federal agencies to shape sustainability program strategies and drive institutional and behavioral change in support of federal sustainability goals. She is also Technical Lead for PNNL's Sustainability Program, responsible for fostering sustainable laboratory operations within PNNL.


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