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Energy Use & Impacts


The EIA (Energy Information Administration) has forecasted a 2.6% increase in U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2018. Even more alarming, U.S. crude oil (petroleum) production is predicted to average 9.8 million barrels per day (b/d). This would mark the highest annual average production in U.S. history, surpassing the previous record set in 1970. As institutions for research and education, public gardens are instrumental in counteracting these current trends and creating a greener, more resilient future. Public gardens can sustain plant life for future generations without relying on fossil fuels, inspiring those outside garden walls to do the same. The Energy Use & Impacts Attribute examines how public gardens can reduce non-renewable energy use and its associated impacts through leadership in green building, energy efficiency, and renewable energy.


Goal 1:  Increased participation in energy efficient programs

Goal 2:  Strategically plan for increased reliance on renewable energy resources

Goal 3:  Strive to achieve zero net energy building

Goal 4:  Coordinate with local & regional partners to reduce GHG emissions

Goal 5:  Track, measure, and monitor energy consumption on all garden owned property

Goal 6:  A commitment to contribute to SDG 7


1. Investigate and Establish a Baseline 

2. Identify Stakeholders 

3. Data Collection/Resources

4. Develop and Implement a Plan of Action 

5. Evaluate and Maintain Success 

6. Report, Communicate, Educate

7. Resources and Case Studies 



1. Investigate and Establish a Baseline


Use the Energy Use & Impacts Self-audit worksheet for the self-audit and use it to further track your planning decisions (see Develop and Implement a Plan of Action section below).


When establishing a baseline, it is important to evaluate your gardens average energy use over the course of an entire year, accounting for seasonal changes. One of the simplest and most reliable methods of establishing a baseline is using monthly prorated utility bills. Some factors to consider when selecting a baseline include climate, expansion plans, and infrastructure changes that affect energy use. The baseline serves as a check point from which a garden can evaluate energy use and measure the success of new conservation efforts.

Conduct an audit to see which of your facilities are using the most energy and compare costs. This could include restaurants, greenhouses, office buildings, and other facilities accessible to the public and employees. Hours of operation, upcoming events, and days your garden are closed (holidays) are important factors to establish long term planning goals that address energy usage. The following are some questions that should be considered as part of an energy-audit process:




  • Has your garden created an energy usage policy/plan with goals and objectives?
  • Does your garden rely on your local or regional utility company for all energy-related data and information?
  • Does your garden follow a set of endorsed energy-usage practices or procedures established by external sources?
  • Has your garden made a commitment to renewable energy resources in either your garden’s strategic or master plan?
  • Does your garden indentify all sources of energy for electricity?
  • Is your garden located in a state or province where you can buy alternative sources of energy off-site?
  • Has your garden reserached or identified renewable energy sources on or off site? (i.e. wind, solar, geothermal).
  • Has your garden considered any carbon offset programs or renewable energy credits?
  • Does your garden work with your city, municipality, or legislator on mutually beneficial energy-related initiatives?
  • Is reducing your energy consumption part of any scheduled or planned conservation projects (LEED certified buildings/facilities)?
  • Does your garden have older infrastruture indoors or outdoors that needs to be replaced with newer infrastructure (e.g. HVAC systems)?
  • Does your garden have a longstanding agreement or relationship with an energy provider or consultant that can evolve so you are reaching optimal sustainability for electricity and gas?
  • Does your garden know what percentage of your electricity is generated from renewable energy sources?




  • Has your garden updated to more energy efficient HVAC systems/equipment at its public and private facilities?
  • Does your garden regularly review your heating and cooling systems at your greenhouses and conservatories throughout the seasons?
  • Does your garden meter all or some facilities to get a sense of which are using the most energy?
  • Does your garden track your annual energy use and cost?
  • Does your garden differentiate between natural gas, electricity, and other energy uses for budgeting purposes?
  • Does your garden inventory your lighting systems (e.g., type of lighting used-fluorescent versus LED)?
  • Does your IT department maintain energy conservation standards across all computers (e.g., computers go to sleep after 15 minutes of inactivity)?
  • Does your garden use energy efficient glass (double panes) at your greenhouses and conservatories?
  • Does your garden meet with representatives from your utility company regularly to discuss rebates for energy efficient standards met?
  • Does your volunteer coordinator or manager work in tandem with your director of facilities, maintenance, or horticulture to ensure docents, tour guides, volunteers know the latest facts about what they should tell visitors about new energy related projects or how certain facilities, systems, and infrastructure operate?


2. Identify Stakeholders


Employees from the bottom up need to be on the same page for a successful energy audit. From the CFO and development staff to the operational and maintenance staff, it’s important to establish institutional goals and value cost-efficient ways to reduce energy consumption. This is especially important for gardens that may not want to hire consultants for their energy auditing process. A unified understanding of what your garden is trying to accomplish moving forward in an effort to reduce energy usage will help engage stakeholders. To reduce your energy consumption requires fostering a culture of minimal energy consumption when possible for all departments. The people who will actually be monitoring and tracking energy use should have a clear idea of what your leadership staff envisions and should be given the opportunity to provide feedback on ways to increase energy efficiency.


  • Does your gardens board and director support the exploration of alternative energy resources?
  • Has your garden shared your energy use vision/strategic plan with your external partners (corporate partners, universities, utility companies, consultants)?
  • If your garden is on city owned property, has your garden shared your energy use vision/strategic plan with city officials? 
  • Does your garden have individual or institutional donors that have expressed interest in supporting renewable energy projects?
  • Has your garden conducted a feasibility assessment of renewable energy sources to share with your stakeholders?
  • Is your garden in a region or climate where renewable energy would be advantageous socially, environmentally, and economically?  
  • Has your garden reached out to your city or region’s division of energy management to explore energy efficiency initiatives or for funding to install new more energy efficient systems (e.g., HVAC equipment)?


3. Data Collection/Resources


The data collection process begins with an assessment of existing energy uses. Establishing systems for tracking and recording valuable data can help inform future decisions. Whether you utilize software such as excel or online tools, this will help your garden analyze cost-effective measures for reducing your energy use. Getting quantifiable information that is easy to communicate to your stakeholders is an important step in the decision-making process.


  • Does your garden use Energy Star’s Portfolio Manager Software to provide data on how your property performs against regional or national averages?
  • Does your garden collect data that goes beyond what your utility company provides (instiutional culture and responsbilities)?
  • Does your garden have temperature control systems in your greenhouses and conservatories that send email alerts to the appropriate staff when temperatures are outside their normal range?
  • Has your garden surveyed visitors and program/event participants to gage educational interest in energy efficiency on and off site?
  • Does your garden depend on one person for tracking energy uses and costs or several?
  • Does your garden get one electricity bill for all buildings and facilities on your property or several for each individual one?
  • Does your garden meter natural gas and electricity use at all or only some buildings/facilities?
  • Does your garden track additional fuel consumptions such as propane, gasoline or diesel? 
  • Does your garden conduct inventories of all existing landscape equipment that requires fossil fuels?


4. Develop/Implement Plan of Action


A plan of action will depend on your budget, staff, climate, region, and the priorities of your garden. Plans that address your energy usage do not have to be on a large scale or require implementing new infrastructure. Some plans might hone in on more cultural transparency and behavior changes that get your employees thinking more sustainably about energy use. Others might focus on technological changes that allow information about energy to flow and be tracked more efficiently across departments. Regardless, incorporating lessons learned from stakeholder engagement, data collection, and establishing a baseline can help your garden strategize ways to reduce energy consumption.




  • Conduct an internal energy audit through utility invoices and metering capital projects. Create a tracking system for monthly and annual energy usage to ensure you are meeting your benchmarking goals for energy consumption, especially if reducing energy is part of your strategic plan.
  • Ensure you are evaluating factors that you can’t always quantify. For example, you can’t quantify leaks from pipelines, but once fixed you are saving a lot of energy and water. Pipe leaks should be evaluated by several experts to see what course of action is best for fixing the problem.
  • Instead of using lighting to heat plant beds in conservatories and greenhouses, install heated plant beds and rely primarily on sunlight and steam (underground radiators) as main sources for heat. Whitewash (white chemical applied to glass panes) to reduce sunlight and better control amount of direct sunlight.
  • Conduct an energy audit of HVAC systems and explore local utility incentives that cover costs to upgrade them.
  • Install low cost kWh meters that can be linked directly to a central database to monitor and collect data on some of your facilities power output.  
  • Conduct a lighting systems audit for all private and public facilities before installing new infrastructure. This will help make judgments on where you should put occupancy sensors or vacancy sensors so that lights turn on and off automatically. Estimate savings for installation of more efficient lighting systems. When compared to an incandescent bulb producing the same amount of light, LEDs are far more energy efficient.
  • Conduct an energy audit of plug loads. Click on the following link to help guide institutions and individuals who are not familiar with this process :
  • Demand response programs reduce energy consumption during hours of peak demand. Determine what your peak demand time is for consumption of electricity (when power demand is highest) and when your off-peak time of use is (when power demand is lowest). Some utilities will charge based on their individual customers peak demand so its best practice to identify and implement a plan to reduce energy consumption during those times. The information gained by establishing a baseline and collecting data can help with demand response program implementation and provide financial incentives.  
  • Reduce on-site fuel consumption in fleet vehicles, lawn mowers, and other equipment through procurement of fuel efficient equipment.




  • Be a part of green initiatives and sustainability goals that external organizations and institutions have committed to. These kinds of partnerships and signposts of solidarity are great ways to grab the public’s attention and show them that sustainability is a priority. Additionally, these commitments help establish project priorities and big picture thinking on how you want your garden to evolve 5, 10, 15 years from now.
  • Every garden where sustainability is pivotal to their mission should strive to increase on-site and off-site reliance on renewable energy sources. After completing the previous steps see where the installation of renewable energy sources such as solar panels could benefit your garden. Make a plan to invest and design in a future facility or technology on site that utilizes renewable energy.
  • Reach out to local universities and colleges for research and to foster partnerships to find energy usage solutions. Identify current and future projects where these mutually beneficial partnerships can provide valuable information to inform your decisions. Make these partnerships part of your strategic plan.
  • Demonstrate to your board and donors how renewable energy could increase revenue and enhance energy efficiency.  While initial costs may be high, strategic partnerships and a demonstrated commitment to energy use reduction may give your garden more exposure as a pioneer and leader in sustainable energy-saving projects in your community and may lead to more collaborative projects and programming in the long run.
  • Provide sustainability training for all new employees, especially those giving tours to visitors: docents, volunteers, and interns. Staff leaders should give a tour about how you’re building and operating your facilities and what projects are aimed at addressing energy usage and their associated impacts.
  • Ensure that volunteers and staff that engage the public regularly have the facts and information concerning energy consumption processes at major facilities and attractions.


5. Evaluate/Revise/Monitor and Maintain Success


  • Monitor and evaluate temperature control systems (HVAC) and seek upgrades when and where necessary.  
  • Evaluate replacing inefficient lights systems and know where lighting systems stay on the longest. Knowing how often the lights are on at all buildings on your property is crucial to an energy audit. 
  • Evaluate which facilities require the most electricity, natural gas, and other forms of energy and then monitor to see if these trends continue (e.g. conservatory-electricity, restaurant-natural gas).
  • Track utility and GHG savings in Energy Star Portfolio Manager.
  • Check meters regularly to monitor kWh and to find outliers and abnormalities.
  • Keep track of how much you are evaluating within your boundaries. If your garden plans to expand, ensure your evaluation and monitoring strategies are adaptable. Revise your monitoring process based on changes in staff size and property owned (expansion).


6. Report, Communicate, Educate


“That’s been really important for our people to be able to talk about why we’re doing it. It’s getting that vision plan to the front house people, our volunteers. Our people interact with guests all the time. That can be challenging, but it’s educating the right way and making sure the organization is all on the same page."

~Director of Facilities and Sustainability Management, Phipps Conservatory  


  • Make energy use and energy efficiency projects more visible to your visitors. Train docents, volunteers, and staff that interact with the public on what you are doing currently and plan on doing to reduce energy so that they can communicate that to visitors. Engage people who are visiting in the same conversation you are having internally.
  • Incentivize people to use renewable energy or reduce fossil fuel reliance through green energy challenges in newsletters, brochures, magazines, and education and interpretation. Inform the public about larger global commitments like SDG 7 (Clean Energy) and any certifications (LEED) or other ways your garden has contributed to this goal.  
  • Prioritize what sources of energy are used most. At the end of the month create a report on what your meters or utility bills are telling you and find out where energy use is spiking and disseminate that information to your entire staff.
  • Report on what facilities and operational maintenance equipment are using the most energy and communicate that to relevant departments. Monitor the use of fuel powered equipment in natural lands or conservation areas to reduce GHG emissions and noise pollution.   
  • Communicate your support for renewable power and the impact it can have on your local community on your website or other media platforms visitors are likely to go to for information on your garden.
  • Have a public forum or event to discuss your energy related strategies and to get input from your surrounding communities.
  • Communicate individual and institutional partnerships that demonstrate a commitment to environmental awareness and renewable energy programs. Include educational information so visitors to your garden online or in person can participate or learn more about green power programs. 


7. Resources and Case Studies


American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE); standards and guidelines.

Association of Energy Engineers (AEE); certification programs for energy-related programs including energy auditing

EnerNOC: Advanced software and free meters that give live and more accurate data with a 2 minute time stamp from your utility. Get baseline data that will give you what your kWh usage is daily.

Input data into Energy Star Portfolio Manager to establish benchmark for energy use, energy cost and associated GHG emissions:


Residential building energy conservation and avoided power plant emissions by urban and community trees in the United States:


Urban forestry and cool roofs: Assessment of heat mitigation strategies in Phoenix residential neighborhoods:

Case Study 

Green Mountain College

The second college in the nation to reach climate neutrality, Green Mountain College blends efficiency, clean energy, and local carbon offsets as methods to achieve goals within its strategic plan goals, Sustainability 2020. Among its most successful accomplishments is its biomass plant, which uses local sources to heat its 40 acres of campus buildings and generates 85% of the school’s annual heating needs.

Green Mountain College’s mission statement sets the tone for green learning by not only talking the talk, but walking the way: “Green Mountain College prepares students for fulfilling lives by taking the goal of creating just and sustainable societies as the unifying theme for its interdisciplinary graduate and undergraduate liberal arts education. The College fosters the ideals of environmental and personal responsibility, civic engagement, entrepreneurial spirit, and global understanding.”

With the goal of using 100% renewable energy by 2020 as outlined in the Sustainability 2020 strategic plan, the college’s biomass plant supports this goal in generating 400,000 kWh of electricity per year through a process of burning wood chips. “The facility replaced number six fuel oil with locally harvested woodchips to provide heat in cold months. The biomass plant and a host of other initiatives have resulted in a 41% reduction in greenhouse gasses across campus since 2007.” Generating about 85% of the school’s annual heating needs, the biomass is only one way in which Green Mountain College seeks renewable energy; other methods include a solar technology and turbine-based wind technology.


Cheyenne Botanic Gardens

The Cheyenne Botanic Gardens (CBG) has been committed to renewable energy since it created its solar heated greenhouse in 1977. The solar heating system in their greenhouses provides 100% of the heat to three separate 30′ x 50′ greenhouse sections. The rest of the 6,800 square foot building also receives a substantial amount of heat generated from their solar greenhouses. The solar heating is a result of the combined effects of polycarbonate glazing, insulation, thermal mass (fiberglass tubes and metal drums filled with water), and a fortified weatherized structure. CBG generates almost 50% of its electricity from a photovoltaic solar energy system. 


New York Botanical Garden

The New York Botanical Garden (NYGB) has become a leader in institutional sustainability. NYGB has several programs that strive to make their garden more energy efficient including modernizing lighting infrastructure, peak load management, optimizing HVAC equipment, and electric and natural gas vehicles.

In 2007, New York City implemented PlaNYC, an energy reduction plan with a goal to reduce consumption of electricity and subsequently reducing Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions by 30% by 2017. Using this plan as a framework, NYGB  replaced older reciprocating air conditioner systems with new “scroll” compressors, pneumatic temperature controls with digital controls, installed new condensing units, and utilized VFD (variable frequency drive motors). NYGB was able to calculate the cost of energy savings by using this new equipment and, over a period of time, the savings not only paid for the equipment and installation but also reduced GHG emissions substantially.


Phipps Conservatory 

In 2007, the nonprofit group Architecture 2030  issued The 2030 Challenge, a set of ambitious objectives for folks in the building sector to curb their energy use and emissions. New buildings, for example, aim to be carbon-neutral by 2030, while existing buildings seek to reduce energy consumption by half over the same span. Phipps Conservatory has signed up for this challenge, as a way to reduce their energy consumption and become proactive in joining the mission of other institutions throughout Pittsburgh to make the city more energy efficient and sustainable. The Pittsburgh 2030 Districts began when Green Building Alliance (GBA), a Pittsburgh-based U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) chapter that’s been promoting green building practices in western Pennsylvania since 1993, instituted a strategic plan calling to effect change on structures already present in the city.

Pittsburgh 2030 aims to reduce its energy consumption and transform the city as a leader in sustainability. The Pittsburgh 2030 Districts’ first step toward those reductions was simple: Help partners understand how much energy they were expending in the first place. Using Energy Star’s Portfolio Manager Software, the Pittsburgh 2030 Districts team provides data to its constituents on how their properties perform against national averages—as well as their peers in Pittsburgh—and formulate specific plans to reach 50 percent energy reductions, which could include HVAC overhauls, improvements to the building envelope, lighting retrofits, and so forth.