Let’s stop blaming buildings, and take responsibility for our energy consumption!

By now it can be considered a proverb. You can find it in academic articles, books, and even on the website of the European Commission. Namely, buildings are responsible for 40% of global energy consumption and approximately 33% of greenhouse gas emissions. Based on this statement, the built environment is considered ultimately responsible, resulting in many proposed measures targeted at buildings. These measures include but are not limited to better insulation, smart thermostats, using LED lights, installing solar panels, smart lighting with the help of sensors, dishwashers, and low-flow toilets and shower heads. Yet, these measures do not target the true culprits, the ones that are ultimately responsible for energy consumption. That being, we as human beings.

Can you really afford an open-door policy, during a full-blown energy crisis?

I will provide proof for this statement by using an example of the city that I live in, Maastricht. During the summer, In retail, the trade association of retailers in the Netherlands, called on all stores to close their doors to save energy. The estimated energy savings with this policy is approximately 20%! After all, with open doors, businesses with air conditioning use more energy, and the same applies to heating in winter. However, during the summer RTV Maastricht documented that many retailers did not comply with this policy, with the main argument being that it is important to have an open appearance for their clients. As a response, the municipality of Maastricht has started a campaign where retailers can put a sticker on their door that states: “We are open! The door is only closed to conserve energy”. Yet, the uptake has been minimal, with only around 5% of the retailers having such a sticker. Funny enough, even the ones with the sticker, still have the door open (see figure below). Evidently, retrofitting buildings is not enough, people need to be incentivized to change their behavior and reduce energy consumption.


If the carrot is not sufficient, there should be a big stick

So if suggestions and campaigns don’t work, the next step should be laws and fines. During the summer, France and Spain implemented a closed-door policy for retailers, similar to Inrail's. The big difference was that they introduced it as a law, and retailers could face a steep fine if they did not comply. It may not be a popular solution, but at some point, strict measures should be implemented to reduce our energy consumption, especially during an energy crisis.

Everyone needs to step up, including the municipality

It is not only retailers that need to adjust their behavior, all stakeholders have to lead by example. For instance, do the Christmas lights in the city need to be on already at 3 p.m. when there is more than sufficient daylight (see picture below)? Furthermore, do they need to run throughout the entire night, or can we shut them off already at 8 p.m.? Supermarkets that have their refrigerated units open, or even without a door (see figure below), should change this practice. There is no excuse for these types of behavior/actions during an energy crisis. Furthermore, this should not be allowed by businesses that later may ask for compensation from the dutch government (aka taxpayer foots the bill) for their high energy costs.


I repeat: the buildings are not responsible for energy consumption, we are! And if we strive to slow down climate change, we need to adjust our behavior in order to reduce the total level of energy consumption.