Conservation experts typically tout the little things people can do to save energy: Replace traditional lighting with compact fluorescent bulbs; install water-conserving flush valves in bathrooms; turn computers off at night.
Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) and his staff decided to do little things such as these a few months ago, and they’ve already seen a big payoff — a 50 percent reduction in the office’s monthly energy costs.
“There’s really no noticeable change that impacts the workday for employees, and yet we are saving energy,” said Steve Wymer, an Allard spokesman. “This was amazing for us to have done that, by taking real simple steps.”
If conservation trends continue, many offices will see their electricity bills go down over the next several months. House Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard is helping Members save energy by overseeing Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) Green the Capitol Initiative, while the Office of the Architect of the Capitol is working with both chambers on its Saving Energy at the Nation’s Capitol project.
Aside from working with Members, AOC officials also are installing sensors that turn off lights when they are not needed, have upgraded heating and cooling systems, and are replacing old windows with air-tight, insulated ones.
The result? Energy consumption went down by 6.5 percent in fiscal 2006, according to the AOC.
“We appreciate the support of Sen. Allard and all of Congress in our collective efforts to save energy,” acting Architect Stephen Ayers said.
Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.) also began instituting eco-friendly policies a few weeks ago. As with Allard’s office, much of the changes are small but make a big difference.
For example, staffers have changed the settings on their printers in order to print on both sides of the paper; the office is buying only 100 percent recycled paper; appliances are powered down at night with many completely turned off over the weekend; and only rechargeable batteries are used.
“Since it is very much in our minds, and the Congresswoman is constantly talking about this in her committee work, we just decided it was time to lead by example,” said Sonia Melendez, a Solis spokeswoman.
Solis, who sits on the Energy and Commerce and Natural Resources committees, also will implement similar changes at her district offices in El Monte and East Los Angeles, Melendez said.
Her staffers are taking an active role in the effort, Melendez noted. All but three take public transit or walk to work, and staffers drink from their own reusable cups rather than relying on plastic disposable cups.
“Before, we used the plastic cups every day,” Melendez said. “Now, we only have a few, and people just don’t use them.”
At the last staff meeting, aides came up with their own ideas for conservation, including doing more electronic “Dear Colleague” letters, Melendez said.
Because the changes have been made so recently, it is not yet clear how much energy has been saved in Solis’ office so far, Melendez said. But staffers are monitoring things, she added.
Allard, who is the founder of the Senate Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus, worked closely with the AOC to make changes in his office, Wymer said. This summer, Saving Energy crews visited Allard’s office, pointing out exactly what to do.
“The changes took place little by little,” Wymer said. “They put in the conservation valves for the toilets, then they did the dimmers. … People were changing light bulbs over people’s desks. It was an interesting few weeks.”
Allard, the ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, has made it a priority to reduce his environmental impact, Wymer noted.
Aside from his work with the AOC, Allard has encouraged his staff to use mass transit through a variety of incentives, undertaken recycling initiatives, and instituted a variety of other electricity and paper conservation projects in his office.
Allard’s drive for conservation also extends to his personal life, Wymer said.
The Senator and his wife, Joan, are preparing for his upcoming 2008 retirement by building a cabin in their home state of Colorado. But in doing so, they are looking at a number of environmentally friendly options, such as installing solar panels to help power the building.
“The Senator has been a big advocate for saying, ‘The market will dictate,’” Wymer said. “The important part is just helping people understand how easy it is, and how easily you can do these things.”
Staffers in Allard’s office will closely monitor energy consumption over the next several months to see whether the cut is maintained. If so, the Senator might send out a “Dear Colleague” letter to let others know what he did to save energy — and how they could do the same.
As Wymer said: “You can make a difference here without putting yourself in the dark.”