The American Red Cross is saving lives … and energy

The American Red Cross is saving lives … and energy

Red Cross and Hillsboro Hops mascots display American Red Cross sign

Photo courtesy of American Red Cross Cascades Region

The American Red Cross is a non-profit organization that provides shelter, food and comfort to those affected by disasters. They supply roughly 40% of the nation’s blood, teach life-saving skills and offer international humanitarian aid.

Its Northwest Oregon Chapter, based in Portland is the regional hub for the American Red Cross Cascades Region, and serves residents of numerous counties across the state. In 2022, the Cascades Region provided more than 600 overnight emergency stays to households affected by nearly 780 disasters – primarily from wildfires.

The public-facing, humanitarian role of the American Red Cross is well known. However, many don’t know about another part of the organization that works behind the scenes in numerous facilities across the country. These facilities typically house a diverse workforce, ranging from biomedical to administrative roles, with some working daytime hours and others on unconventional schedules.

The Portland facility is no exception. One side of the property houses laboratory facilities that procure and safely process blood donations, while another side is occupied with offices and workspaces. As a result of the constant activity, the HVAC system operates 24 hours a day, leading to high energy use and monthly utility expenses.

In light of this, Adam Yeomans, real estate project manager for American Red Cross facilities across the nation, worked with Energy Trust of Oregon to find a way to optimize the Portland facility’s HVAC system and reduce energy waste. Yeomans quickly discovered that the building’s HVAC control system needed a serious upgrade that would not only create more comfort, but also provide much-needed energy cost savings.

The direct digital control (DDC) system, a building automation system that uses sensors and a central computer to monitor a building’s performance, needed to be replaced. The existing controls system was no longer sophisticated enough to condition part of the building for various parts of the day and night, wasting energy and causing discomfort for the building’s occupants. Maintenance staff used analog controllers that would read the temperature of a particular area and then had to rely on a basic printed map to manually determine which equipment required temperature adjustments to ensure the comfort of the building’s occupants.

With a $87,200 cash incentive from Energy Trust, which included a $5,900 bonus incentive, the non-profit was able to install a new digital building automation system (BAS) that now allows staff to diagnose any issues immediately. Working in partnership with Northwest Control Company, an Energy Trust trade ally contractor, the newer, more sophisticated control system also allows facility managers to turn off or reduce the amount of conditioning done in the office portion of the building when it’s not occupied, while continuing to condition the manufacturing side as needed.

By doing so, the facility is saving an estimated 290,000 kWh in electricity annually, which is equivalent to the electricity needed to power 29 homes for a year. The energy savings from the new custom controls will save American Red Cross’ Northwest Oregon Chapter an estimated $30,000 a year in utility costs.

According to Yeomans, the new and improved BAS system will allow maintenance teams to control building systems and troubleshoot mechanical equipment accurately for the next twenty-some years, while keeping operating costs down and saving energy.

A big part of what Yeomans tries to do is help his team make informed decisions and create budgets in order to plan for the future and, ultimately, be more energy efficient. “Now, the Northwest Oregon Chapter headquarters has a system in place where they can accurately see what’s working properly and what’s not,” added Yeomans.

Learn more about how you can save energy at your business with support from Energy Trust of Oregon. Visit our cash incentives page here or get started on your energy-saving project by emailing