"In this place, in this space, we expect you to behave this way. We expect you to keep your lights off. We expect you to recycle," Jennifer Cross, associate professor of sociology at CSU, said.
Cross was asked to study the energy efficiency of Rocky Mountain High School built in 1974 after district leaders noticed it was conserving more electricity than Fossil Ridge High School built six years ago. Fossil Ridge met federal standards under LEED - Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
"Fossil Ridge was designed to be more energy efficient," Cross said. "What's going on over at Rocky? And can it be repeated at other schools? Can we do it other places?"
Principal Tom Lopez says what's going on is that they've created a culture at Rocky Mountain. He says its part of what teachers and students call, "The Lobo Way."
"You're not thinking in terms of rules," Lopez said. "I never cracked the whip in any fashion whatsoever."
Instead, he says it's an established social norm at the school. Students and teachers have expectations that they will recycle and conserve energy.
"So, everything from delamping to hours when lights are going to be on," Lopez said.
He says school staffers developed their own program to shut down computers during certain times to save energy. They're using natural light whenever possible and every time a classroom is empty, all the power is off. He says picking up littering and recycling are also part of the efforts.
"They learn, 'Oh, wait a second, I am having an impact. I didn't realize Rocky Mountain High School actually recycled this much material' and it wasn't going in the landfill," Lopez said. "In fact, our local landfill is in our attendance area, so we're even more concerned."
Over a two-year period, Rocky Mountain cut electricity use by more than 50 percent creating savings of more $40,379.
Cross says a big factor was showing teachers the comparison of energy use of Rocky Mountain versus other schools.
"Comparative feedback gets people to reduce their use and get it closer to the national average," Cross said.
She says if staff and students can work together to conserve electricity, those efforts allow an older building to match new devices in LEED buildings such as more efficient bulbs, lighting systems, etc.
"If you think that the building is going to do it for you, right. You're in a building. It's LEED certified. It's designed to be more efficient. Then, that gives people permission to check out," Cross said. "If you're in a building and you're not thinking about your behavior then yes, behavior can equal technology."
If you're wondering if it's worth it to build LEED-certified buildings if the people can inside an older building can equal its savings, Cross says the answer is yes. She says while electricity use can be conserved. Overall, older buildings use more energy because they burn more natural gas in their antiquated heating and cooling systems.
"We can't have as big an impact on natural gas use than in a cold climate like Colorado," Cross said. "We need to heat and cool the building."
Lopez says by creating culture, he hopes to affect change from now into the future.
"To have a citizen that was learned and that could apply it to their own life," Lopez said.
(KUSA-TV © 2010 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)