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Landmark Case Study

Energy Connect

Energy savings and occupant comfort can be achieved quickly and persistently in large, complex facilities when building operators and mechanics see energy savings as part of their job and are empowered to solve building performance issues. This program, called Energy Connect, demonstrates how inherently risk-adverse and cash-strapped hospitals with the primary mandate of patient care, can adopt a culture of conservation without adding any new resources. A package of five interventions, developed using a Design Thinking approach, were tested in healthcare living labs across six diverse healthcare facilities at the second largest health network in North America. Verified first year results show annual energy savings at three facilities from 3% to 12% attributable to Energy Connect. Preliminary unverified results in the other three facilities also show energy savings. Designated a Landmark Case Study in 2018.


Note: To minimize site maintenance costs, all case studies on this site are written in the past tense, even if they are ongoing as is the case with this particular program.

Atrium Health Sustainability and Energy Connect invited experts from 4 countries in sustainability, energy management, engineering, anthropology, hospital and facilities administration, and behavioral psychology to participate in an Energy Summit. The Summit incorporated ‘Design Thinking’ a problem-solving technique using experimentation and evidence, beginning with a deep understanding of the needs and motivations of actors within the energy ecosystem. This method helps participants imagine possible alternate futures and supports deeply user-centered outcomes. This team of internal and external actors informed the design of Energy Connect, oversaw implementation and became the vital evaluation panel.

Getting Informed

The Energy Connect Program Founder based the program on eight years of previous work with facilities staff and building occupants in Toronto, Canada on energy behavior at the University Health Network.

A critical relationship with the Director of the University of North Carolina, Charlotte (UNCC) – Sustainability Integrated Building and Sites (SIBS) program emerged from a grant funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to provide a standardized Building Retuning training to hospital mechanics. Grounded in human centered design, qualitative data was gathered and analyzed for themes from 10 focus groups, 20 interviews, 113 surveys and 3 International Energy Agency Task 24 workshops. Qualitative research was used to accomplish two primary goals; one, identify access points in the current system to leverage change and two, document a baseline condition which program designers and evaluators could use as a comparison in the future.

Decisions were made based on experience, expertise, available financial resources and qualitative research findings.

Prioritizing Audiences  

This program focused on frontline facilities management staff in hospitals and healthcare buildings (building operators, mechanics, and engineers.) The secondary audience was building management supervisors, facility directors and corporate energy management staff.

 While building operators and mechanics account for a small percentage of people in each healthcare building, they have a disproportionately high impact on energy use. Therefore, their energy saving behaviors can dramatically reduce overall energy consumption.

Selecting Behaviors

Target behaviors included but were not limited to

  • documenting overrides in the building automation system (BAS)
  • avoiding simultaneous heating and cooling
  • solving comfort complaints for root cause
  • implementing HVAC scheduling set-backs during unoccupied times on evenings and weekends.

Interventions encouraged operators and mechanics to detect and act on energy waste within the buildings they were responsible for.

In addition, two Energy Connect Summits were hosted in Charlotte, North Carolina for all actors in the energy ecosystem to convene and agree on intervention design and evaluation.

A comprehensive report on benefits and barriers was produced to help program designers and target audience adapt interventions to their specific context and bring energy savings to life. Highlights from the report are listed here:

A sample of the barriers facing building operators and mechanics to save energy:

  1. They have not been required to save energy in the past.
  2. They are not familiar with BAS set-points and scheduling and why it is important for energy savings.
  3. They have not had BAS training.
  4. Their jobs are mostly reactionary and they often describe themselves as “juggling grenades and putting out fires” every day.

A sample of the benefits for building operators and mechanics for saving energy:

  1. Rooms are more comfortable and easy to control
  2. Feelings of pride in problem solving
  3. Reduced number of occupant complaints
  4. More time for routine maintenance

Delivering the Program

Under Development

This progam was designated a Landmark case study in October, 2018 and we are currently working on the full text version. 

The focus of the energy behavior program was on engaging building operators and mechanics to remove temporary HVAC system overrides used to satisfy occupant comfort. Five preliminary interventions were conceptualized to address this system change:

  1. Improving energy literacy and building automation trouble shooting through training
  2. Making energy data visible to the frontline
  3. Selecting and supporting site based mechanics to be energy champions
  4. Standardizing an approach to hot and cold calls with a process flow
  5. Talking with occupants about energy saving opportunities.


Measuring Achievements

During the first summit evaluation criteria wer identified for four proposed program outcomes; Saving money and conserving natural resources; Empowering building operators, mechanics, and engineers; Positively impacting patient experience; and Creating a culture of energy savings. Measures for each outcome were selected based on usefulness of the measure, ease of acquiring the measure and credibility of the measure to program participants

A package of five interventions were tested in healthcare living labs across six diverse healthcare facilities at the second largest health network in North America, Atrium Health (previously, Carolinas HealthCare System) in Charlotte, North Carolina. The tests were conducted in separate facilities including two hospitals, two medical office buildings, one stand-alone emergency department and one data center.

More details to come

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