Energy Efficiency

The biggest consumers of energy in an office setting are lighting, heating, cooling, and office electronics. Energy usage can be curtailed dramatically by focusing on those big energy uses, which can be upgraded to higher efficiency models or used less frequently by adjusting employee behavior (or both). The following list focuses on activities that can be accomplished with little or no financial investment (Note that efficiency improvements related to information technology are discussed later in this section).

The Alliance created a matrix to help you assess the cost effectiveness of each of the following strategies by comparing the level of operational investment to potential environmental impact. To view the matrixes for this section, click on the links below:

Periodic Action  Property Manager Involvement
Habitual Action  Lower-Impact
Policy-Driven  Higher-Impact


Get an Energy Audit

If you’re interested in making substantial improvements to your office’s energy efficiency, an energy audit may be a good place to start. Whether it’s via an online audit tool or conducted by trained energy auditors, audits help identify and prioritize energy-saving opportunities so that you focus your investments on the most cost-effective efficiency upgrades. Talk to your utility about any energy audit or retrocommissioning programs that they offer; if they don’t have a program, they can recommend trained professionals who can conduct the audits for you.

Energy Usage Software

Many utilities now offer online tools to analyze past energy usage and monitor current usage. By examining patterns in energy consumption, you may notice areas of opportunity to reduce consumption. For instance, you should notice a significant drop in energy consumption during unoccupied hours; if you don’t, there may be a need to reduce heating and cooling or ensure that lighting and other equipment is shut off during unoccupied hours. Studying your current consumption patterns will also help you track your program’s accomplishments going forward.

Turn Off Lights and Appliances When Not In Use

Encourage all employees to turn off the lights as they leave a room. Make sure that the light switches are clearly visible; try putting reminder stickers on the switches, particularly for infrequently used rooms such as conference rooms, storage rooms, etc. Reminder stickers on infrequently used electronics and appliances would also be helpful; if it doesn’t need to be on all the time, it should be turned off or unplugged.

Reduce Lighting

Often times, very little thought is given to how much lighting is available in an office work space, and too much lighting can cause glare on computer screens, resulting in eye strain and headaches. Employees can experiment by selectively turning off individual lights to determine the minimum amount of light needed to work safely and effectively. This can include disconnecting individual overhead bulbs in panels that have multiple bulbs. Employees may find that they work more comfortably with less overhead light when they add a small task light focused on their desk.

Use Motion Detectors

Motion detectors on light switches can result in major energy savings. Potential energy savings for motion sensors are most significant in warehouses (50-75% energy savings), conference rooms and storage areas (45-65%, corridors (30-40%), and rest rooms (30-75%).

Make Use of Daylight

Offices can be organized in a way to maximize the use of daylight as opposed to artificial lights. In many cases, artificial lights can be turned off for most of the daylight hours.

Use Daylight Sensors (Photocells)

Photocells turn lights on and off automatically based on measured daylight levels, optimizing the amount of light throughout the day and in changing weather conditions.

Install Duel Switches and Dimmers

Dual switches allow you to turn on half the lights in a room when full lighting is not needed; a similar effect can be achieved with dimmers. These features might be especially useful in conference rooms, where you may want dimmer lights during a presentation, and also in areas that receive partial daylight but not enough to fully illuminate the room.

Label Light Switches

Use labels to make it easy for employees to know exactly which switches control which lights, and whether or not those lights can be turned off or should be left on overnight for security purposes.

Contract for Janitorial Services during Work Hours

By having these services performed during work hours, additional lighting is not needed in the evening when most employees have gone home. This is not something the average employee has control over; however, management typically involves employees in the decision since they will be impacted by having janitorial services being performed while they are in the office.

Only Light Occupied Areas of Your Building during Cleaning

If having janitorial services done during work hours isn’t possible, make sure that the janitorial service only lights the room/area that they are currently cleaning.

Use Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs)

For any lamps or fixtures that use regular screw-base light bulbs, switch from incandescent to CFL bulbs. CFLs use 75% less energy and last five times longer than incandescent bulbs, resulting in significant energy and cost savings. CFLs for specialty applications (e.g., various shapes and sizes, dimming, three- way) are becoming more widely available.

Use LEDs for Exit Signs

Each ENERGY STAR labeled LED exit signs installed in your office can save approximately $10 per year in energy costs.                                                        

Switch to LED Holiday Lights

If your company puts up holiday decorations, be sure to use LED holiday lights, which use up to 90% less energy than standard holiday lights. LED holiday lights are safer because they are much cooler to the touch and therefore present less fire risk.

Clean and Inspect Your Lighting Systems Regularly

Lamps decrease their light output over time as they age and accumulate dirt. Regular cleaning, maintenance, and replacement of aged bulbs will ensure that the lighting systems operate to their full capacity and that employees don’t end up requiring additional task lighting to be able to see properly. Conduct a yearly training session for maintenance staff to ensure that they know how to properly clean the lamps and they understand which replacement parts are appropriate for which lighting systems (if multiple systems are in use).

Improve Interior Surfaces' Reflectance

Selecting high-reflectance finishes for ceilings and walls can enhance daylighting and reduce the need for interior lighting by improving the even distribution of light around a room.

Use Timers or Photocells for Outdoor Security and Parking Area Lighting

The use of timers or photocells ensures that outdoor lighting is used only when necessary. Photocells are the most foolproof choice because they will adjust automatically to seasonal changes in the daylight hours as well as day-to-day variations in outdoor light due to weather conditions.

Use High Pressure Sodium or Metal Halide Lamps for Exterior Lighting

High pressure sodium or metal halide lamps are the most efficient and effective choices for exterior lighting. Make sure that the exterior lights are compliant with local ordinances on light pollution; use luminaires to direct the light down to the ground.

Retrofit Your Old Lighting System to Save Energy and Improve Lighting Quality

Talk to a lighting professional about whether it would be cost-effective to retrofit your entire lighting system with more efficient fixtures, lamps, and ballasts, particularly if your building still uses T12 linear fluorescent lamps and magnetic ballasts. Substantial energy savings as well as non-energy benefits (e.g., reduced humming and flickering) are possible with an upgrade to T8 or T5 lamps and electronic ballasts. Learn more about energy-efficient lighting retrofits by reading the lighting section in the ENERGY STAR Guide for Small Businesses (PDF).

Keep the Thermostat Set at an Appropriate Temperature

Programmable thermostats are inexpensive and allow employees to set a comfortable temperature while the room is being occupied and a more efficient temperature when it is not. Make sure that your programmable thermostat is actually programmed to reflect the hours that the building is typically occupied or unoccupied.

Use Fans to Redue the Need for Air Conditioning

Fans help make higher temperatures more comfortable. If strategically located fans help you raise the thermostat setting one degree during the summer without reducing comfort, you can save 3% in cooling costs.

Move Copiers and Servers Away from Thermostat

If the thermostat is located near the coper, server, or other heat-generating equipment, it may cause the air conditioning to run more than necessary, which wastes energy and reduces employee comfort. (A more efficient copier or server would also solve the problem!)

Only Heat and Cool Spaces When Necessary

If possible, avoid heating and cooling infrequently used spaces such as storage spaces and conference rooms except when necessary.                            

Keep ALL HVAC Components Clean

Change HVAC filters every month during the peak heating and cooling months; dirty filters make the system work harder and result in reduced indoor air quality.

Get an AC Tune-up

Contact an HVAC technician to give your AC unit an annual preventive maintenance tune-up, check fluid levels, and give the unit a thorough inspection and cleaning. It’ll save energy and help your equipment last longer.

Keep Exterior Doors Closed While AC is on

Keep your cooled air inside. If propping doors open is considered a “welcoming” gesture in your neighborhood, consider placing a friendly window sign in the door that explains that you’re trying to save energy by keeping the doors closed.

Weatherstrip around Windows and Doors

Use weatherstripping to minimize drafts and seal any leaks so that your HVAC system can do its job properly.                                                                            

Use Window Coverings Effectively

In the summer, use solar films or awnings to shade the sunlight coming through the windows; in the winter, remove any obstructions from southern-facing windows to maximize the sunlight.

Consider an Energy Management System

Energy management systems allow you to control and automate more complex HVAC systems (for instance, multi-zone, multi-floor buildings) and may also enable you to control lighting and security features of the building as well.

Deeper Efficiency Retrofits:

There are numerous upgrades to your building’s lighting, heating, cooling, water heating, and other systems that may be very cost-effective depending on your existing equipment’s efficiency. An energy audit (offered for little to no-cost by many utilities) can help uncover those major equipment upgrade opportunities, and many of these upgrades are eligible for utility rebates to help offset the costs. The ENERGY STAR Guide for Small Businesses (PDF) provides an excellent summary of these potential opportunities for equipment upgrades and also provides links to many additional resources.

Your organization should consider how long it intends to occupy the current building before making major efficiency upgrades. If you’re in a leased space, explore opportunities to share the costs and benefits of efficiency upgrades with your landlord via a green lease. See the California Sustainability Alliance’s Green Leases Toolkit for more information and sample lease documents.


ENERGY STAR’s Small Business Online Guide: Provides links to many technical resources on lighting, heating, cooling, and other technologies.

Summary of ENERGY STAR Tools and Resources for Businesses

DSIRE Database of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Incentives and Programs

PG&E Customers: List of Commercial Energy Efficiency Rebates

SCE Customer: Energy Management Solutions Guide for Offices (including incentive program information)

SCG Customer: Large Commercial Rebates

SDG&E Customers: Fact Sheet on Energy Efficiency Business Incentives