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Measuring Energy Efficiencies in Buildings: Connecting Goals with Metrics

Measuring Energy Efficiencies in Buildings

Presented By


For the past several years, the Green Buildings discussion group at the New York Academy of Sciences has been developing programs focusing on a diverse array of topics including Zero Energy Buildings, building metrics, post occupancy evaluations, and government policy. Monitoring and measuring energy usage has always been a topic of discussion, but over time the complexities of clear communication about energy issues have impeded some efforts to forge ahead with usage monitoring.

On May 25, 2011, this event, Measuring Energy Efficiencies in Buildings: Connecting Goals with Metrics, brought together a diverse group of experts from both the architecture/engineering and the communications/graphic design communities to discuss the challenges of communicating about energy both within the profession and to the larger public. The discussion continued an ongoing conversation around the opportunities and challenges of communicating energy-related issues, changing behavior, and monitoring and measuring efficiency gains. The Green Buildings discussion group's goal for this meeting was to build consensus around the best strategies to employ when talking about energy usage in buildings in order to educate people about the challenges and opportunities that exist to improve energy usage.

Symposium organizer and moderator Chris Garvin, from Terrapin Bright Green, began the discussion by providing context for the conversation. He traced the history of the interest in regulating energy use in buildings to the energy crisis of the 1970s and the environmental legislation enacted in that era. As a response, the 1980s saw a developing interest in selecting building materials to optimize building efficiency. Piece-meal solutions were a thing of the past in the 1990s when integrated design that treated buildings as systems became the norm. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification system was built upon this idea of integrated design to optimize energy efficiency. The green buildings field has recently begun to encompass existing buildings as well—as more and more structures are retrofitted for greater energy efficiency. Garvin went on to highlight the components of the building system that influence its energy performance. This overview set the scene for the speaker presentations.

Hywel Davies, from Chartered Institution of Building Engineers, provided a perspective from the UK on how energy labels have been able to reveal the true energy credentials of individual buildings. He began by drawing attention to a 'credibility gap' between design intent and performance. Buildings are sometimes designed to be low carbon, but in practice their performance is disappointing. They fail to live up to the design-based energy efficiency accolades that they have received. Two important factors contribute to this situation. First, after the building is complete, the design-build team is no longer involved in the life of the building. Thus the team does not receive and cannot act on feedback data on the performance of the buildings. Second, the design intent is not made clear to the building's users so the building's energy efficiency features are not utilized optimally. Davies presented energy labels and certificates, analogous to U.S. reports of a building's energy usage over time, as a means of assessing a building's post-occupancy performance. He highlighted the UK's Display Energy Certificate program and its successes.

Victoria Anstead, from Tactical Aesthetics, presented on how creative communication can be effectively applied to change behavior in order to improve post-occupancy building use, for example. Anstead expressed that this goal is best achieved by appealing both to the analytic and to the experiential parts of the brain. The analytical brain processes data while the experiential absorbes information that is presented as a narrative. Anstead identified principles of communication that should guide messaging intended to inspire an active response on the part of the recipient. She also provided examples of behavior change campaigns that have tried to promote sustained engagement in a desirable activity. She concluded with a demonstration of how data can be visualized in a manner that both informs an audience as well as evokes an emotional response from them.

Beginning in August 2011, building performance data will be publicly available thanks to New York's Local Law 84. In his talk "Buildings are People Too," David Hsu, from the University of Pennsylvania, described how to use data analysis techniques from social science and medicine to develop better programs for energy efficiency. Hsu advocated a view of buildings that takes into account their individual characteristics and history. A building's energy performance is tied to its characteristics, and therefore such data are well-suited to social science or medical data analysis approaches. Hsu's talk also tackled the question of whether an increased availability of information will lead to change. In his answer Hsu suggested that policy design plays the most significant role in determining whether society will attain the economic gains that can be achieved by improving building energy.

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Presented by

  • The New York Academy of Sciences

Silver Sponsors

  • Skanska
  • United Technologies

Organizer and Moderator

Chris Garvin

Terrapin Bright Green
e-mail | website

Chris Garvin is an accomplished practitioner and active voice in the sustainable design community. His interests include high-performance design at both the building and community scale, zero energy communities, biomimicry, and water conservation. Garvin serves as a project lead for many of Terrapin Bright Green's consulting engagements while also managing projects for Cook + Fox Architects where he is a Senior Associate. Complementing his work at Terrapin, Garvin lectures on sustainable design and has taught at the Pratt Institute's Center for Professional Practice since 2002. He also advises several organizations on sustainability issues, including the National Building Museum. Garvin is a member of the New York Academy of Sciences' Green Building steering committee and serves on the Board of Directors for the US Green Building Council – New York Chapter and on the Advisory Board for Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Office of Long-term Planning and Sustainability.


Victoria Anstead

Tactical Aesthetics
e-mail | website

Victoria Anstead is the founder and managing principal of Tactical Aesthetics, a creative consultancy that works to reframe the way people think and act in "green" buildings. Through cross-disciplinary collaborations incorporating the arts, technology, and decision science, the company produces projects that include data visualization, interactive gaming, and social media. Tactical Aesthetics evolved from Anstead's twenty years as a curator and advisor in the contemporary art world, giving her a perspective that fuses engagement in the creative process with a deep understanding of its potent and myriad manifestations. Anstead began her career in international management consulting and banking and holds an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

Hywel Davies, PhD

Chartered Institution of Building Engineers

Hywel Davies is Technical Director of the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers, the learned society for heating and ventilation, lighting, public health, and other branches of engineering relating to energy-using systems in buildings. He has been engaged in the development of the UK energy labeling systems since 2004, and has also been an advisor to ASHRAE on their bEQ program in the US. His early career was spent at the UK equivalent of NIST, the Building Research Establishment, and for the last 10 years he has worked as a consultant and, since 2007, as Technical Director of the CIBSE.

David Hsu, PhD

University of Pennsylvania
e-mail | website

David Hsu is an Assistant Professor in the Department of City & Regional Planning at the University of Pennsylvania. He studies how environmental policy is implemented in cities through systems of infrastructure, buildings, institutions, behavior, and finance. Topics of particular interest include energy and water, green buildings and building codes, consumer behavior, and how these are all affected by increasing digital information. Prior to academia, Hsu worked in city government in Seattle and New York, as a financial analyst, and as a structural engineer and environmental designer. He received his doctorate from the University of Washington in Seattle.


Presented by

  • The New York Academy of Sciences

Silver Sponsors

  • Skanska
  • United Technologies