Put Your Political Skills to the Test

08/01/2009 | By Chris Olson

Chris Olson

While the pros and cons of stimulus packages are rousing rampant debate in that theater called politics, maybe you should try out your political skills on “stimulus” investments.

If, before the current economic doldrums, you spent until your facility budget had reached its limits, today you are probably looking for savings everywhere so that new money drops to the bottom line, where it looks very much like the revenue your organization yearns for. A bolder step is persuading your organization to make a “stimulus payment” on energy efficiency. This takes the political skills to persuade management that some expense and capital items can be revenue-generating investments.

Like a politician, you need to think about the best way to frame the issue and to counter your audience’s objections. You need to work the strategic middle ground. On the one hand, your story can’t seem too good to be true, making you into a pitchman on an infomercial. On the other, you can’t come across with the timidity of a bookkeeper.

I have a tough time learning how to act like a Congressman. Today I actually spent some of my own money.
– Joseph P. Kennedy II

If your management has little appetite for technical and engineering details, then use only the words of an investment advisor. If your audience lingers under the notion that energy efficiency is the realm of tree huggers, then avoid references to carbon footprints and climate change. If your management sees only the short term, then compare your organization’s current net on its tepid revenue to the energy savings. How much more revenue would your organization need in order to earn the same dollars as your energy project?

And what about your buildings’ value? We’ve heard for years that energy-efficient buildings have significantly higher value, but statistics to buttress the claim have been few. This year a first-ever academic study shows that institutional investors now factor energy efficiency into their real estate models because properties with the ENERGY STAR stamp perform better: 13.5 percent higher market values, 5.9 percent higher net incomes per square foot, 10 percent lower utility costs, 4.8 percent higher rents, and 1 percent higher occupancy rates.

If the profit in energy efficiency has reached stocky institutional investors – a mooing herd known to change course as slowly as the proverbial battleship – then the idea must be going mainstream.

Who knows? Because of the stimulus your energy project provides to the bottom line, maybe your manager will elect you to a higher office.

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