Battle of the Kilowatts

June 24, 2014

Challenge occupants to reduce energy with games and competitions.

On any given day, many of your FM tasks are focused on conserving energy. Whether it’s scrutinizing utility bills, making adjustments in the BAS, or championing for efficient retrofits, saving kilowatts never falls off your to-do list. But you may have overlooked one of the most important factors for energy performance – your occupants.

The relationship facility managers have with tenants can be a wary one at best, fraught with skirmishes over space heaters, thermostat settings, and light levels. But with the growing impact of plug loads, building owners need to recognize that human behavior can make or break an efficiency program.

Consider how the vast majority of your building’s energy use is determined by occupant needs, from operating hours and lighting to heating and cooling. You might also have little to no control over the proliferation of computers, printers, desk lamps, and mobile devices that have become standard in any office or classroom setting.

“Plug loads can represent anywhere from 15 to 50% of a building’s energy use and are one of the fastest growing end uses of energy,” says Jaxon Love, sustainability program manager for Shorenstein Properties. “If you’re not looking at plug loads and developing a strategy to manage them, you’ve got a major blind spot in your overall energy efficiency program.”

Related Article

Click here to read about the energy conservation program developed by Shorenstein Properties that has resulted in up to 45% energy savings.

Energy competitions unite occupants and facilities management as they work toward a common goal. Not only will plug loads become more manageable, but the nature of these challenges will engender a positive experience that can infect all aspects of your business model.

“Successfully engaging occupants as part of a performance team offers many advantages to the building owner,” says Alison Liaboe, director of communications and research for Ecova, an energy and sustainability management firm. “This includes reducing turnover, minimizing the cost of building operations, and increasing tenant referrals. A better performing building also benefits workers by improving their health and productivity.”

Nagging occupants to turn off equipment has never resulted in sustained energy savings – make them an extension of your FM team instead. By engaging tenants with fun and creative programs, property managers can turn passive employees into energy champions.

The only loser is your utility bill.


How to Play by the Rules
If you’ve ever done a waste competition, you have a pretty good idea of how an energy challenge is structured. These programs can be rolled out in almost any building type or size.

You can pit two residence halls against each other, create a friendly rivalry between several floors in a high rise, or encourage buildings of a similar type across a portfolio to outdo one another. A single property can also strive to improve over its previous performance.

While each program will require a degree of tailoring, use the following guidelines to ensure the success of your competition:

1) Find a Partner in Crime – These competitions are unlikely to be handled by your facilities team alone. To execute an event on this scale, look for comrades in your organization who can help promote participation.

College FMs may partner with the student government or office of residence life. If your company has a green team, turn to those who are already sustainability cheerleaders to get others on board. Your HR and internal communications department are also great allies who can help advertise the campaign.

It’s also critical to enlist the help of your IT department, stresses Love. As you’ll be encouraging occupants to turn off their computers, you want to ensure your efforts to save energy don’t undermine IT procedures for security patches and updates.

2) Get a Clue about Consumption – How can you translate your building’s energy profile into information tenants can understand and act on? Your utility bill is a proven starting point for energy management but likely isn’t granular enough to be meaningful at the occupant level, notes Liaboe.

Campaign with Style

Need a creative name for your energy competition? Take some inspiration from these real challenges at universities and businesses.

  • Negawatt Challenge
  • Power Smackdown
  • Battle of the Plug
  • Fight the Power
  • Blackout Challenge
  • Power Down
  • Mega-Watt Madness
  • The Energy Games
  • Green Games
  • Do It in the Dark
  • Unplugged
  • Eco-Olympics
  • Be an Energy Star!
  • Kilowatt Crackdown

Total building load and energy use per square foot are good metrics to establish your baseline before starting a competition, says Mark Buckley, vice president of Environmental Affairs for Staples Advantage. Avoid focusing on costs, as price can be variable. If you don’t have submetering in place that can isolate energy usage by specific areas, such as one floor or wing, you can always do a building-wide challenge.

It’s also important to ensure all teams have an even playing field, Liaboe adds. If one team area has the print copy center but the others are simply office spaces, you don’t have an apples-to-apples comparison. You need to ensure that your competitors have a nearly identical energy profile so no one has a leg up.

Some companies turn to individual plug load meters that sync with a dashboard that occupants can access from their desktop (see Shorenstein example on page 32). Energy savings are made concrete when students can see in real-time what their computer consumes in sleep mode or employees can track the impact of shutting off their lights at night.

3) Points for Participation – Employees may not understand the complexities of submetering or the benefits of a chiller, but they know their personal task light consumes far less energy than air conditioning the entire workspace. Show occupants how actions within their immediate control can have a positive impact on the building’s performance.

Most programs focus on very simple behavior changes that need constant reinforcement to become a habit:

  • Turning off lights for long meetings, lunch breaks, and overnight
  • Powering down computers at the end of the day and before weekends
  • Unplugging equipment instead of using standby mode
  • Washing laundry in cold water (for dorms)
  • Switching to LED task lighting
  • Running dishwashers during off-peak hours
  • Working by daylight

Buckley recommends that you humanize energy consumption. Compare energy savings to home use, as most people have a basic understanding of what they pay for their residential utilities. If you’re tracking greenhouse gas emissions, translate carbon reduction into equivalent cars on the road.


4) Race to the Finish Line – Before handing off the baton, make sure to set goals for your competition. Participants need to know what they’re working toward and your FM team also needs a metric to measure the success of the program.

Some organizations set a goal for the entire challenge, such as an overall building reduction by a certain percentage or saving X number of kilowatts. Others may simply strive to get a specific portion of their occupants to participate.

Whatever goals you settle on, make sure they realistically reflect your occupants’ ability to achieve them, Liaboe recommends. If you shoot for the moon but miss your target, participants may feel their efforts were for naught.

5) Set the Clock – Depending on your occupant culture, competitions can last for a matter of weeks or months. The College Conservation Nationals, an electricity and water conservation program for universities and colleges, only runs for three weeks. Other colleges find a semester is an ideal length. If you own your space, a whole building challenge could be sustained for a full year. But for a quick efficiency hit, a single month allows you to compare utility bills with ease.

“Occupants can establish new behavior in two to four weeks, so make sure your competition provides enough time to turn actions into habits,” Liaboe explains. “You can then refresh every quarter or on an annual basis.”

6) Keep Your Eye on the Prize – Find out what will motivate your participants. Sometimes bragging rights are enough but others may need something more concrete. Cash prizes and gift cards are standard, as are food rewards. Commemorative plaques, trophies, or certificates can also serve as a pat on the back.

Try branded items for the competition, such as t-shirts, stickers, reusable bags, and water bottles. Participants can also vie for eco-friendly products, such as an LED task lamp or bulbs, workout gear, or smart power strips. Consider a company outing or tickets to a local event, suggests Liaboe. To really up the ante, enter participants into a drawing for an extra day of vacation.

7) Monopolize Progress Reports – No matter how long your competition runs, it’s imperative to refresh the program periodically. Participants need continual reinforcement of their progress to stay motivated.

“You have to show people where they are making a difference,” says Buckley. “It’s one thing to establish a baseline for energy consumption, but you have to create momentum around improvement.”

Kick-off events, social media updates, and company announcements via email or newsletters can help keep the competition on everyone’s radar. If resources allow, create a dedicated website or intranet page to highlight improvements. Public displays or kiosks and desktop apps are also effective as they provide immediate feedback, says Liaboe.


8) Do a Victory Dance – Make sure your competition ends with a bang and not a whimper. Bring out the marching band (literally, if you can) and toot your horn for any gains. Clearly communicate the results and make it a point to thank participants for all of their efforts. No matter whether your target objective was reached or not, you want everyone to know the campaign was a success, particularly if you intend to make the competition a regular event.

“You want to avoid sending negative messages or making individuals feel poorly about their participation,” Love stresses. “These competitions are all about encouraging tenants and providing the tools, information, and incentives to empower individuals to save energy.”

9) Go Fishing for Feedback – Once your competition has ended, seek feedback from participants, says Buckley. They may have valuable suggestions on how to improve the program, from simplifying instructions to picking a more attractive incentive for the next round.

“Developing tenant engagement strategies involve some trial and error. Don’t be hesitant to try something simply out of fear that it may not work,” encourages Love. “Keep in mind that the bigger picture is about positive interactions with tenants, building the skills of your property management team, and uncovering opportunities for savings.”

Roll the Dice
While energy competitions may seem like all fun and games, don’t peg these challenges as a trivial pursuit – the savings are a hard win.

“Volunteer energy efficiency is low-hanging fruit,” Buckley says. “Energy competitions are a great motivator and accelerator for behavior change. Making everyone feel part of the solution is really effective in terms of reducing energy.”

Kilowatt games are also a way to build positive relationships with occupants. “A strong program can frame energy and resource management as an organizational value, which provides a strong marketing advantage,” adds Liaboe. “It also increases workplace pride and teamwork.”

This dialog with tenants, employees, and students can have a domino effect on facilities management as a whole. With their eyes focused on efficiency, occupants may spy areas for efficiency that you haven’t had a chance to notice, adds Liaboe. When occupants see facilities management as a partner who wants to improve their workspace, they also tend to be more open about subsequent improvements.

As you move beyond an energy competition, look for additional ways to engage occupants with sustainability.

“Challenge everyone to think about not only what’s best practice but next practice,” recommends Buckley. “Once people get a taste of success and feel appreciated for their efforts, they’re motivated to tackle even bigger challenges.”

Jennie Morton [email protected] is senior editor of BUILDINGS.

About the Author

Jennie Morton

A former BUILDINGS editor, Jennie Morton is a freelance writer specializing in commercial architecture, IoT and proptech.

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