Energy managers: Your next energy savings opportunity involves human beings - Smart Energy Decisions

Commercial, Demand Management, Energy Efficiency, Industrial  -  May 12, 2017 - By Kathy Kuntz

Energy managers: Your next energy savings opportunity involves human beings

Energy managers, especially successful energy managers, face increasing challenges over time. While achieving energy saving targets can be relative straightforward initially, finding new savings gets increasingly harder. An energy manager in the auto industry once told me: "This year's goals were easy, and I know what we'll do to hit the target next year too. But three years from now? I've really no idea where we'll find more savings then."

So what are energy managers to do? One underutilized approach is to engage the broader workforce to get all of an organization's employees involved in identifying and achieving energy savings opportunities. Doing so can create substantial benefits.

Engaging your workforce correlates to more energy savings

In 2015, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE)'s summer study on industrial energy efficiency featured a CLEAResult paper at the that analyzed factors that correlate to higher-than-average energy savings across hundreds of strategic energy management projects in manufacturing facilities. According to the study, CLEAResult found that entities with a high level of employee engagement, meaning that employees participated in energy saving efforts, saw an average savings of 5.96%. That number compares to facilities where staff was aware of energy savings initiatives but did not participate, which saw an average energy saving of just 3.30%. Think about that: engaging the entire workforce correlated with almost double the energy savings!

These benefits are not just limited to manufacturing facilities. As more and more office buildings strive to be zero energy, the impact of occupant practices matters more and more. A recent office plug load reduction study done for the Minnesota Department of Commerce found that plug load represents about 55% of energy usage for high-performance buildings. This percentage gets even larger as lighting and building energy savings opportunities are addressed. However, the study was able to identify multiple strategies, including increased employee engagement, which reduced plug load by around 20%.

Of course, the path to realizing these savings is far different than installing new lighting or changing the HVAC settings. For many energy managers, the idea of engaging employees seems like foreign territory. "I know energy, I don’t know anything about people," one energy manager told me.

Today's millennial workforce wants to be involved with corporate social responsibility efforts

The good news is that energy managers have a natural ally in engaging employees: The human resources department.

While energy managers are wondering where they will find future energy savings, the folks in HR are trying to recruit and retain top talent. Newsflash: Much of that top talent wants to work for a company that has a strong commitment to sustainability, and that provides employees with opportunities to be part of that commitment. One example can be found in a recent Cone Communications study, which found that 70% of all employees and 82% of millennials say they'd be more loyal to a company if they had a role in corporate sustainability efforts.

Ultimately, engaging employees around the company's energy and sustainability goals is a win for everyone. The energy team gets deeper and broader savings when they can influence individual practices and find energy savings opportunities that aren't easily identified through traditional means, while HR gets a powerful recruitment and retention tool. Using this strategy, a company can save money on energy costs and hiring costs simultaneously.

The best engagement strategies are those that empower employees to be part of the solution and help to make saving energy part of the corporate culture. One of our clients talks about "the power of an entire employee population moving in the same direction" to save energy and other resources. That's the kind of organizational alignment and enthusiasm that will create substantial energy savings well into the future.

Kathy KuntzKathy Kuntz is the Executive Director of Cool Choices, a nonprofit that implements employee engagement programs that help companies accelerate their sustainability efforts. Cool Choices has inspired thousands of individuals at hundreds of organizations to adopt sustainable practices at work and at home, saving energy, water, and other resources.

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