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Higher education facilities can present a complex energy picture, with multiple academic and residential buildings, research laboratories, and sports and recreational amenities. Energy demand varies throughout the year with the influx of students and staff. By using less energy and incorporating renewable energy sources, colleges, universities and other higher education facilities can do their part to reduce emissions and manage costs—while educating and empowering students, faculty and staff to do the same.

Below are eight tips that can help your school save energy, save money and inspire the campus community to lead in environmental stewardship.

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Do your homework: understand your current usage

Start by studying your facility's energy usage patterns and bills, looking for broad trends. Which facilities consume the most? How does demand vary throughout the academic year? Commission an energy audit for a detailed picture of energy usage and to identify areas of waste. Install software, sensors and monitors to measure real-time energy use, and consider sharing these statistics on public displays to communicate the impact of energy-saving choices to students, faculty and staff.

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Set goals and measure your progress

It's important to pursue energy conservation strategically, identifying goals, measuring progress over time and celebrating milestones with the greater campus community.

Use a free tool like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager® to measure emissions and the use of energy and water use at your school. The Labs21 Tool Kit offers a Benchmarking Tool that is designed specifically for laboratories. Once this information is collected, you can set benchmarks and prioritize energy conservation measures on your campus.

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Replace light bulbs

Lighting is often described as the "low-hanging fruit" of energy conservation because installing high-efficiency lighting is a relatively simple, often cost-effective way to conserve energy.1 Swapping out incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) can cut lighting costs by as much has 50 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.2

Some light emitting diodes (LEDs) offer even greater energy savings—as much as 75 percent, according to ENERGY STAR.3 According to Harvard University, the recent LED conversion of two of its libraries, including in stacks, hallways and stairwells, will save an estimated $18,000 per year, reducing energy consumption and curbing maintenance costs.4

An upgrade to LED exit signs throughout campus can save $10 in electricity costs per sign each year, and significantly reduce maintenance.5 Opt for metal halide lamps in parking lots, and upgrade exterior signage to LED lighting.

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Seal air leaks

Examine windows, doors, walls, roofs and the foundations of campus buildings—these serve as crucial thermal barriers. When leaks in the barriers exist, buildings need more energy for heating and cooling.

Windows are especially important, since they are common sources of air leaks and also help reduce the need for electric light. Window improvements can cut your lighting and HVAC costs by 10 to 40 percent, according to the National Institute of Building Sciences,6 so consider treating them to improve their efficiency. Add coatings, glazing and insulation to reduce the loss of heat in the winter and cool air in the summer. You might also consider window replacement, but have an energy efficiency expert help you determine if and where new, high-efficiency windows offer a return on investment.

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Install sensors to avert waste

Building occupancy and energy demand at higher education facilities can vary widely throughout the year. Include sensors and motion detectors as part of your automated building management system to detect and automatically shut down heating and cooling equipment, as well as lights that aren't in use. Smart energy management systems can even learn the flow of people in and out of a room and adjust lighting, heating and cooling pre-emptively to save energy. Revisit these systems regularly to ensure the settings are appropriate.

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Capture wasted energy with a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) system

Save energy and cut heating costs with a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) system. When CHP systems generate electricity, they also capture the thermal energy that is produced, putting it to use for building heating. CHP systems can not only lower energy bills, but they also can increase system resiliency should the electricity grid fail.[i]

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Improve water system performance

Heating and pumping water to campus bathrooms, laundry facilities and recreation centers requires significant electricity. Install low-flow faucets, showerheads, toilets and urinals, and set controls to turn faucets off automatically in common areas. Consider upgrading to energy-efficient washers and dryers, and set water temperatures only as hot as needed. Tankless water heaters can also reduce storage costs and waste. Ensure that older water heaters and pipes are well insulated, and quickly repair any leaks.

checkmark iconEncourage students, faculty and staff to conserve energy

Involve the entire campus community in your school's energy conservation efforts. Remind students and faculty to set computers to power-save mode, turn off unneeded lights, and unplug or shut down equipment before leaving campus for extended periods of time. Post simple signage to remind students to save energy by washing clothes with cold water, taking shorter showers and opting to use the stairs instead of the elevator.

Even better, consider installing digital energy displays in high-traffic areas. These give passers-by a quick glimpse of the building's energy use in real time and drives home the importance of their energy conservation efforts; they could even inspire some healthy energy-saving competition.

There are many opportunities for your higher education facility to reduce its carbon footprint, save energy and reduce operating costs. Direct Energy Business Direct Energy Business can guide you. We can help you buy less of what we sell, offering a Total Energy Management approach to lowering energy costs with data and analytics, energy efficiency and alternative energy solutions, including:

Get started today!

Download our free Total Energy Management guide for Higher Education now!


  1., "How Energy-Efficient Light Bulbs Compare with Traditional Incandescents," retrieved February 10, 2016
  2. U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, “Office Energy Checklist,” retrieved February 2016
  3. ENERGY STAR, “Why Choose ENERGY STAR Qualified LED Lighting?” retrieved February 2016
  4. Harvard Library, “Bright Ideas for Sustainability at Harvard Library,” retrieved February 2016
  5. ENERGY STAR, “Invest in energy-efficiency measures that have a rapid payback.” retrieved February 2016
  6. National Institute of Building Sciences, Whole Building Design Guide, Windows and Glazing,” updated November 4, 2014
  7., “Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Combined Heat and Power,” retrieved February 2016

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