Climate Corps 2010: Shining a Light on Energy Savings

EDF Climate Corps

Climate Corps 2010: Shining a Light on Energy Savings

I was at the airport the other day, staring at the ceiling.

“I’m pretty sure those are T-8 fluorescent bulbs, which is great,” I thought out loud. “But this is an outdoor walkway and it’s the middle of the day. Why are the lights on? This could use a timer switch, or some day-lighting. With 100 bulbs off for eight hours a day, how much could you save? Let’s see….” 

I rambled on: “Oh! Those are T-12s over there. That’s such an easy fix! Who can I talk to about switching those out?” My husband rolled his eyes -- the poor guy has had to put up with my infatuation with light bulbs all summer.

Until I joined the EDF Climate Corps program this summer to work with REI, I only occasionally looked at light bulbs -- usually  residential  bulbs, making sure that my family used CFL’s versus energy-hogging incandescents. But after the EDF Climate Corps training sessions in San Francisco, I can’t stop looking up at commercial lighting.

Quick and Obvious Savings

During this summer’s training, we were taught to first examine the quick and obvious available savings for our companies. In total, I’ve identified the potential for REI to save over 6.5 million kWh, equaling over 2,700 metric tons or almost $900,000 per year. This is through many different strategies (see my blog post on retrocommissioning for one), and lighting controls is a big chunk of the final number.

Light Loggers

At the beginning of my fellowship, I learned through another Climate Corps fellow that Leviton lends out a case of light loggers for three weeks free of charge. A light logger is a device that tracks when someone enters a room, as well as whether or not the light is on or off. At the start of my scavenger hunt for energy savings at REI, I ordered the case and planted the light loggers around the headquarters offices in Kent, Washington. They come with a handy magnet attached and are easily placed on office ceilings.

After scaring my co-workers (“Get down from that ladder! What are you doing?” and “What is that? Are you spying on me? Is that thing going to explode?”),  I waited for a couple weeks to collect the loggers and download the data. The findings? Employees leave the office around 5:30 p.m. each day, and the cleaners don’t arrive until about 11 p.m. They are out by midnight and turn off the lights when they leave. The lights come back on at 5 a.m., and workers start coming into the office around 7:30 am.

Finding Hours of Opportunity in Lighting

While this was a fun experiment, I wasn’t really expecting to find big numbers in lighting savings at REI. The bulbs are already T-8s, and motion sensors are already installed in closed spaces like offices, conference rooms and restrooms. However, I was pleased to find a whole eight hours per week-day of opportunity with the lighting.

Installing lighting sensors in open office areas is only one of the suggestions I’m making to help create  an even more energy-efficient REI. Just for the building in which I work, electricity saved for those 8 hours per day will total 92,000 kWh, adding up to about $8,000 annually. Additionally, the local utility, Puget Sound Energy, provides monetary incentives for each sensor we install.

I am finishing up my fellowship now and may be scarred for life by an unhealthy obsession with light bulbs. Perhaps it will wear off. If not, I’ll always be able to have my 50 Climate Corps “sustainabili-buddies” who understand and sympathize with my fixation.

Sarah Will is a 2010 EDF Climate Corps fellow at REI and a member of Net Impact. She is an MBA candidate at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute. More coverage of the Climate Corps program is available at This content is cross-posted on the Environmental Defense Fund Innovation Exchange Blog.

Image courtesy of REI.