Unleashing Energy Efficiency: Transforming Universities and Empowering Students

June 10, 2023 in environment, Sustainability

Article summary and Key takeaways: Energy efficiency is crucial for universities to reduce their carbon footprint and set an example for their students and the community. Factors contributing to energy consumption include heating, cooling, lighting, and research activities. Students can play a role in promoting energy efficiency by adopting simple habits. The ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager is a useful tool for universities to track and manage energy consumption. The ENERGY STAR Higher Education Benchmarking Initiative allows universities to compare their energy performance. Rankings assess energy consumption, reduction goals, renewable energy usage, and sustainability initiatives. Universities generally consume more energy than schools, but efforts are being made to reduce consumption. Prioritizing energy-saving practices can lead to a more sustainable future.

Energy efficiency is a crucial factor in today’s world, as the demand for energy continues to rise and the effects of climate change become more severe. Universities, as large institutions with significant energy consumption, have a responsibility to prioritize energy efficiency in order to reduce their carbon footprint and set an example for their students and the broader community. In this article, we will explore the energy efficiency of universities, the factors that contribute to their energy consumption, and the steps they can take to become more sustainable.

University Energy Consumption

Universities consume a substantial amount of energy due to their size and the various activities taking place on campus. Factors that contribute to energy consumption include heating and cooling of buildings, lighting, ventilation systems, laboratory equipment, and energy-intensive research activities. Additionally, universities often have large campuses with multiple buildings, which further increases their energy needs.

An analysis of average energy usage in universities reveals that the energy consumption per square foot is higher compared to other commercial buildings. This is partly due to the 24/7 operation of certain facilities, such as research labs and libraries, as well as the presence of large auditoriums and sports facilities. However, it is important to note that the energy consumption of universities varies depending on the type and size of the institution.

Comparing energy consumption between different types of universities, research universities are typically the highest energy consumers. This is because they often have extensive research facilities, laboratories, and specialized equipment that require a significant amount of energy to operate. On the other hand, liberal arts colleges, community colleges, and smaller universities generally have lower energy consumption due to their smaller size and fewer energy-intensive activities.

Energy Saving Tips for Students

Students play a vital role in promoting energy efficiency on campuses. By adopting simple energy-saving habits, they can make a significant impact on reducing energy consumption. Here are some practical tips for students to implement in their daily lives:

  • Turn off lights, fans, and electronics when not in use.
  • Unplug chargers and appliances when they are fully charged or not in use.
  • Use natural lighting whenever possible and turn off unnecessary lights during the day.
  • Adjust thermostats to conserve energy and dress appropriately for the weather.
  • Use energy-efficient light bulbs and appliances in dorm rooms.
  • Limit water usage by taking shorter showers and reporting any leaks or plumbing issues.
  • Encourage the use of public transportation, carpooling, or biking instead of driving alone to campus.
  • Participate in energy-saving campaigns and initiatives organized by the university.

By incorporating these energy-saving habits into their daily routines, students can contribute to a more sustainable campus environment and inspire others to do the same. Collectively, these small actions can lead to significant energy savings and reduce the carbon footprint of universities.

ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager

The ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager is a valuable tool that universities can use to track and manage their energy consumption. This online platform allows institutions to input and analyze their energy data, benchmark their performance against similar facilities, and identify opportunities for improvement. The tool provides a comprehensive view of energy usage across different buildings and can help universities identify areas where energy efficiency measures can be implemented.

By utilizing the ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, universities can better understand their energy consumption patterns, set energy reduction goals, and monitor progress over time. This data-driven approach enables institutions to make informed decisions about energy management and prioritize investments in energy-efficient technologies and infrastructure.

Despite its benefits, it is important to acknowledge the limitations of the ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager. The tool relies on accurate and up-to-date energy data, which may be challenging for universities to collect and input. Additionally, the benchmarking feature of the tool requires a sufficient number of comparable buildings for accurate comparisons. Nevertheless, the ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager remains a valuable resource for universities committed to improving their energy efficiency.

ENERGY STAR Higher Education Benchmarking Initiative

The ENERGY STAR Higher Education Benchmarking Initiative is a program designed specifically for universities to compare their energy performance and identify opportunities for improvement. Participating universities provide their energy data to ENERGY STAR, which then calculates an energy performance score based on the institution’s energy consumption per square foot.

Through the benchmarking initiative, universities gain access to a national database that allows them to compare their energy performance with similar institutions. This helps universities understand how they rank in terms of energy efficiency and identify best practices that can be implemented to reduce energy consumption.

Analysis of the results and rankings of universities participating in the ENERGY STAR Higher Education Benchmarking Initiative reveals that there is a wide variation in energy efficiency among institutions. The top-ranked universities consistently demonstrate a commitment to energy conservation and have implemented comprehensive energy management strategies.

Ranking of Energy Efficiency in Universities

There are different ranking systems that assess the energy efficiency of universities. These rankings consider various factors, including energy consumption per square foot, energy reduction goals, renewable energy usage, and sustainability initiatives.

When comparing the top-ranked universities in terms of energy efficiency, some consistently appear in multiple rankings. These institutions have made significant investments in energy-efficient infrastructure, implemented comprehensive energy management plans, and actively engage students and faculty in sustainability initiatives. Their commitment to energy efficiency is reflected in their low energy consumption and carbon emissions.

The criteria used in these rankings are significant as they provide a comprehensive evaluation of a university’s energy efficiency efforts. They assess not only the energy consumption of buildings but also the institution’s commitment to renewable energy, energy reduction targets, and sustainable practices. By considering these criteria, universities can gain a holistic understanding of their energy performance and identify areas for improvement.

Energy Consumption in Schools

While universities consume a significant amount of energy, it is important to compare their energy consumption with other educational institutions, such as K-12 schools. Schools also have their own unique energy needs, including heating and cooling of classrooms, lighting, and energy usage for technology and teaching resources.

Comparing energy consumption between universities and schools reveals that universities generally consume more energy due to their larger size and more extensive facilities. However, efforts are being made by schools to reduce their energy consumption by implementing energy-efficient measures. This includes using energy-efficient lighting and heating systems, installing renewable energy sources, and educating students about the importance of energy conservation.


In conclusion, energy efficiency is a crucial aspect of universities’ sustainability efforts. By understanding the factors that contribute to energy consumption, implementing energy-saving habits, utilizing tools such as the ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, participating in the ENERGY STAR Higher Education Benchmarking Initiative, and considering energy efficiency rankings, universities can make significant progress in reducing their energy consumption and carbon footprint. It is essential for universities to prioritize energy-saving practices and inspire their students to adopt sustainable habits. By doing so, universities can play a leading role in promoting energy efficiency and creating a more sustainable future for all.

Question 1: How much energy does a university use?
Answer: The energy usage of a university can vary, but it is generally high due to the large number of buildings and facilities.

Question 2: How can college students be more energy-efficient?
Answer: College students can be more energy-efficient by turning off lights and electronics when not in use, using energy-saving appliances, and practicing good energy conservation habits.

Question 3: What is the ranking of energy efficiency?
Answer: The ranking of energy efficiency can vary depending on the specific context or industry being considered. There is no universal ranking for energy efficiency.

Question 4: Do schools use a lot of energy?
Answer: Yes, schools typically use a significant amount of energy due to the need for lighting, heating, cooling, and powering various equipment and technologies.


About the author 

Jamie Willson

Hey there, I'm Jamie! As a Climate Scientist from MIT, I've spent years unraveling the complexities of global warming. My work ranges from conducting research on climate impacts to advising on environmental policies. I'm passionate about making the science of climate change accessible and actionable. Join me as we explore practical solutions to one of the biggest challenges facing our planet.