Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to determine the behaviors, attitudes, and levels of understanding among faculty, staff, and students in efforts to design programs aimed at reducing energy use in University of Michigan (UM) buildings. Design/methodology/approach – A multi-method approach is used in five diverse pilot buildings including focus groups, behavioral observations, environmental measures, and web surveys. The analyses consider differences between buildings and between the three population groups. Findings – Among the findings, UM staff are most concerned about conserving energy in UM buildings while students are the least concerned. A significant proportion of survey respondents are not aware of past university efforts to conserve energy; among those who are aware, many felt that university efforts are inadequate. The observations and self-reports reveal an abundance of energy-consuming equipment in offices, and lights and computers are often left on when work spaces and conference rooms are unoccupied. Furthermore, occupants tend to wear heavy clothing during warm weather months indicating excessively low building temperatures. Finally, most occupants are willing to accept higher building temperatures during warm weather months and lower temperatures during cold weather months. Originality/value – There has been limited work in institutional/organizational settings that considers occupant behavior as a factor in designing programs to conserve energy. The research uses a multi-method approach to understand what people do, think, and have vis-à-vis energy use and conservation. Additionally, the researchers – working with university officials – have designed programs aimed at changing the behaviors of building occupants. These programs have been implemented in the five pilot buildings; plans are currently underway to evaluate the effectiveness of the programs.