Setting Targets and Encouraging Behaviors That Work

Oct. 26, 2012
Jennifer Woofter of Strategic Sustainability Consulting talks tenant involvement.

Why do so many energy reduction goals fail?
In my consulting practice, the biggest flaw I see in energy management initiatives is ignoring the human element. You can do a lot to minimize energy use from a building or facility perspective, but at some point you are going to have to address employee behavior in the workplace. This is one of the most challenging aspects of our work as sustainability practitioners. It involves changing people’s mindsets. And honestly, as much as we say that “going green” is hindered by financial costs, the reality is that it’s time and attention that are the real obstacles.

Employees are already overworked. Asking them to take the extra few seconds or minutes every day to practice energy-smart behavior is an uphill battle. For example, one of the major reasons that people don’t turn off their computers at night is that they don’t want to wait the extra 3-5 minutes in the morning for the computer to boot up.

Who needs to be involved in energy management?
Many companies designate an “energy manager” from the facilities department and leave it at that —what a mistake! Energy management is an ongoing initiative that requires support and collaboration across many areas of an organization.

For example, IT should be involved in energy-efficient equipment purchasing decisions. Human Resources can tackle the employee behavior aspect of energy management through awareness building, games and competitions, and other engagement activities. The corporate real estate division should be brought into the fold when considering a change in location or a renewal of the current lease. All of these departments and personnel are a critical part of energy management and need to be brought into the process early and often.

What can we do to make it easier to achieve energy reduction success?
One of the key questions to ask is “How can we make this easier?” In the example where employees don’t want to turn off IT equipment at night because it delays them the next morning, the simple answer is “How can we eliminate that delay?” Many companies are turning to network power management, where computers can be turned on from a central location (and on a specific schedule) at a given time. If the IT department can turn computers on at 8:10 a.m. right before people start arriving, they can eliminate the frustration that employees feel waiting for their computers to boot up. That technology also provides a way for the IT department to dispatch security updates in the middle of the night—just turn on the computers, send the patch, and shut them down again. There is really no reason to leave computers on overnight anymore.

How can we get employees to change their behavior?
The most important thing to remember is that not everyone will be motivated by the same tactics, so you need to mix and match your approach. In general, I recommend that every new sustainability initiative incorporate three elements.

First, employees need to know what the program or initiative is all about. How many times has a fabulous new idea failed simply because it wasn’t communicated properly?

Second, employees need to know what management expects them to do. Once employees know that a new initiative exists, they need to understand how it impacts them and what their role is in determining success or failure.

Third, employees need adequate resources to fulfill expectations. Sometimes that means providing training. Other times it’s just permission to take a bit of extra time to adjust to a new process. Sometimes it is additional budget or personnel. It’s critical at the beginning to identify what kind of resources employees will need and ensure that you can provide it.

What new developments in energy management are you excited about?
There is a huge opportunity to take energy “gamification” to the business world. There are already software tools that deploy energy management competitions at the residential level, where individual households compete to reduce their energy. Those results are then shared on social media so that groups of friends can see the energy-smart leader. With the advances in smart building technology, I can see a future where departments compete against each other to minimize energy spend across the entire organization.

Jennifer Woofter is the founder and president of Strategic Sustainability Consulting www.sustainabilityconsulting.com. She has more than a decade of experience in organizational sustainability, corporate social responsibility, and socially responsible investing.

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