Graphic: The Pyramid of Conservation

The other day, Martin Holladay, a blogger for Green Building Advisor, mentioned this energy-efficiency pyramid, which I found to be quite interesting.  He said The Pyramid of Conservation originated from Bob McLean, CEO at Hunt Utilities Group, and was created for Minnesota Power.  Minnesota Power uses the interactive graphic to help customers determine where to start when taking on energy efficiency projects.

The conservation pyramid has 10 levels that, as you climb from the bottom, become increasingly more expensive and complex.

As a point of interest, two of the most popular areas to get government money show up at the top, while the bottom level is just now being targeted by the proposed HOMESTAR program.  I’m not saying that this is good or bad, but I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

Keep in mind the pyramid was designed for the residential context.  When you break down energy use, lighting accounts for a large portion of energy use in commercial buildings, while heating accounts for a large portion of energy in the residential context.

Certainly, every home is different and may require a tailored energy-efficiency approach, but as Holladay explains: “The rules displayed in the energy conservation pyramid are not set in stone; every house is different, and different climates dictate different strategies. But it’s hard to quibble with the pyramid’s basic hierarchy.

Now, this graphic seems straight forward, but some folks get this all messed up.  They go for the green gizmos from the start, and blow the wad without making needed efficiency changes.  Some might say this is akin to powering a Mustang with solar panels while riding down the freeway with the windows down.

Whatever the comparison, if you’re thinking about energy efficiency — or net-zero energy — it’d be wise to keep The Pyramid of Conservation in mind.  This is how you get there.

Media credit: Minnesota Power.


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  • http://bruteforcecollaborative.wordpress.com/ mike

    edward tufte would not be impressed. this pyramid implies that you shouldn’t tackle anything but the ‘low hanging fruit’ first, an approach destined to fail.

    what would be better is for people to get off the whole pyramid kick (it doesn’t work for food, either) and let people know that by super insulating, they’ll shave ‘x’ amount of heating bills, by changing out all incandescents, they’ll shave off another percentage – this is information that would be useful to most homeowners. no

    • John

      Great point about Edward Tufte :-)
      A diagram like this is still a good start… we need something that combines cost/complexity and impact (in energy/dollars/CO2 saved). Superinsulation will have significant impact, but it’s not a trivial or cheap measure. The question is, could someone get the same impact by doing something cheaper/simpler? Another bonus of diagrams like this is that insignificant impacts (like ‘vampire’ loads) would get pushed to the end of the line.

  • Julian Einfrank

    This is a great graphic! I find it interesting homeowners are replacing CFL’s like crazy and turning off their computers at night, thinking they have reached the pinnacle of “green”. In reality, those baseline upgrades are only the beginning. Hopefully with the implementation of the new HOMESTAR rebates people will begin climbing this energy efficiency pyramid.

  • http://www.elementalled.com/ Elemental LED staff

    Yes, I appreciate what this does tell you, but at the same time, as a way to display information, it seems easy to read things into it that may or may not be true. Are we to assume that items closer to the top have more of an impact than items toward the bottom? If so, it seems to suggest that complexity=higher cost=effectiveness.

  • http://metrohippie.com metrohippie

    Loving this graphic! I do a lot of consumer education, and I don’t know how many times people have asked me about solar panels when they don’t even use CFLs! A breakdown like this is very important, as most people will start with the low hanging fruit, enjoy the savings, then work their way up…

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