I recently had the opportunity to get out of my regular work routine in DC to visit picturesque Golden, Colorado. Golden is the site of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory [1] campus—one of ten National Labs [2] across the country. While there I got to learn from scientists, engineers and experts of all kinds about ongoing, innovative renewable energy research projects—from high performance solar cells [3] to utility-scale wind turbines [4].

Photo of a building with a courtyard in the middle and a wing on either side.

The Research Support Facility at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Photo by Dennis Schroeder

The main attraction of the trip was our tour of the new, U.S Department of Energy Research Support Facility [5]—considered by many to be one of the most energy-efficient commercial buildings in the world. The sustainable building is a "living laboratory" of cost-effective, sustainable design and construction—both conserving and generating energy with minimal impact to its surrounding environment. Watch the RSF Documentary [6].

(FYI: Tours through NREL's Visitor Center are open to the public [7]).

While the building incorporates advanced technologies—like electrochromic glass [8] and transpired solar collectors [9]—I learned that there are several simple, time-honored strategies used at the RSF that can be applied to your own office space.

If you have lee-way with the layout of your office consider:

  • Lowering cubical walls to encourage air flow—it's also a way to get more face-time with colleagues for brainstorming and collaboration
  • Locating workstation to within 30 feet of a window for daylighting [10]—letting in the natural light from the sun can save energy and possibly boost productivity [11]
  • Using automated sensors [12] that adjust to climate and lighting

Some of the simplest energy-saving tactics used at the RSF include:

  • Using recycled materials—we can all think of creative ways to reuse existing materials in our office spaces. At the RSF, reclaimed natural gas pipes and beetle kill pine [13] promote sustainability and add character to the design.
  • Share printers and other office equipment —limit the number of printers/faxes/scanners at work
  • Switch to laptop computers that use less power than desktop computers
  • Restrict the use of personal appliances [14]—make sure microwaves, coffeemakers and space heaters are unplugged when not in use
  • Open windows for natural ventilation—it reduces the need for conventional heating and cooling

And perhaps simplest of all (but nonetheless effective)

  • Turn off lights at night

Has an energy-efficient/sustainable building ever inspired you to adopt energy-saving practices at home or work? Share in the comments below.

Erin Pierce is a Communications Specialist for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy