Energy efficiency: What does it take to change behaviours?

Aligning corporate energy reduction targets with individuals' motivations and behaviours can drive significant savings, but is incredibly difficult. Kicking off edie's engagement month of editorial content, we investigate how energy managers can get the rest of their organisation on board with his or her efficiency strategy and effect real change.

In the second part of edie’s energy efficiency feature series compiled with input from E.ON Energy Solutions, we speak with sustainability charity Global Action Plan about some of the latest behaviour change methods that are being applied to deliver successful energy management strategies in an increasingly digitalised world.

The New Year got off to a bang with the Consumer Electronics Show 2017 (CES 2017) in Las Vegas, US, giving us a glimpse of how the likes of the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) can streamline everyday issues, from brushing hair to lowering energy consumption.

The business potential that the IoT and other great technological advancements can have on energy efficiency is significant. These concepts have the capabilities to streamline other technologies – from onsite renewables to metering and data management – to create an around-the-clock management system aimed at boosting energy efficiency to optimal levels.

— The behaviour change cheat sheet: 10 top tips to drive engagement with energy efficiency —

As these smart systems develop, the time that an energy manager has to spend on maximising efficiency can drop significantly. We’ve already seen the role that AI can play in increasing energy performance, with Google recently boasting a 40% reduction in energy use within its data centres thanks to the development of its own AI-based management system.

Building Energy Management Systems can also lead to substantial reductions in energy use, all while streamlining the approach for the relevant department and teams. But energy management priorities and activities vary from business to business, and the lengths that companies will go to maximise efficiencies will differ as a result.

For some, energy efficiency remains a tick-box compliance exercise, mostly driven by legislation and perhaps managed through ISO standards. For others – and as the first part of the this series revealed – moving beyond compliance on energy efficiency will either save money by reducing energy costs or create new revenue streams by sending it back to the grid.

For those with greater energy efficiency ambitions, technological advancements have made the management of energy much more simplistic, provided that they can make the business case for them. But, as the world increasingly relies on the digital, there is a danger that human behaviour is being discarded as an afterthought.

E.ON Energy UK key account manager John Conway agrees: “No longer is corporate energy strategy about just getting the cheapest tariff for electricity. It’s about becoming “energy smart,” a goal that is inspiring businesses to reconfigure their teams, offices and operations.

If a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, in the case of evolving businesses that weak link may just be the staff. So, while new technologies are undoubtedly key in driving down energy usage, it is important for energy managers to educate at staff level to ensure that centralised and streamlined energy management methods aren’t being hindered unwittingly by staff.

Prioritising behaviour

As an independent charity, Global Action plan (GAP) has dedicated itself to helping businesses improve on key environmental footprints by engaging staff in a way that inspires them to strive for improvement. The organisation has been working with both Sainsbury’s and the Barts Health NHS Trust to ignite behaviour change amongst staff in order to improve energy efficiency.

For GAP’s senior partner Chris Large, efforts to climb the energy efficiency ladder can often by hamstrung by a failure to bring staff on board with the initiatives, even if technological advancements have been made.

“The energy managers and sustainability managers I talk to put simple behaviour change as one of the most important options to manage their energy costs – not least because, as financial times get tight, it’s something you can do with a low capital investment and a low investment upfront to pay back in energy savings,” he says.

“I’ve spoken to several clients over the past year that prioritise behaviour change over other options simply because they don’t have money for the other higher investment options. It’s quite high on the agenda.”

While digitalisation is seen as one of the great enablers of the low-carbon transition, some companies either lack the funds or board engagement to turn pixels into reality, Large says. Tumbling prices of LEDs and renewables may help, but overall a large amount of companies, especially small and medium sized (SMEs), may still be unable or unwilling to invest in new tech. Indeed, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has suggested that SMEs hold the key for the UK’s low-carbon goals, and for SMEs behaviour change may hold the key to decarbonising businesses.

“Small business owners are often tied up doing lots of things – they are the boss, sales agent, secretary, procurement department and accountant all in one. It’s safe to say that no business owner wants to waste money, yet that’s what using unnecessary amounts of energy does,” says E.ON’s director of B2B sales Iain Walker. “The bottom line is that to save energy – and ultimately money – you and your colleagues need to care about reducing waste. Educating your team about the consequences of poor energy habits – or posting the successes of internal campaigns – is a big part of improving things, as is laying down the ground rules on what should be done and by whom. People need to be encouraged to switch things off, and are sometimes not sure if they’re “allowed” to do it.”

In a previous edie feature, Large suggested that behaviour change can be shackled by an unwillingness to change; little or no motivation and a lack of knowledge. In order to overcome these hurdles, Large claims that framing the narrative of energy management is vital.

“There are improvements to energy management that automation can bring and it’s certainly not something we should rule out or slow down,” Large says. “But it’s important to consider how people will react alongside the automation.

“Until you know what you want people to do, making them actually do it is very difficult. It’s important to have the detail. If you go and ask everyone to just be more energy-efficient, it means a lot of different things and you are leaving a lot up to interpretation.

“When people know what the right thing they are supposed to do is, there still must be a good enough motivation for them to do it, especially if it takes extra time or thought in their daily schedule.”

Framing motivation

For Large and GAP, this motivation comes down to framing energy management in a way that offers benefits to the staff, and incentivises them. GAP managed to communicate with staff at Barts Health hospitals in order to motivate them to reduce a £13m energy bill by focusing on patient well-being. Large cited multiple research investigations which all suggested that more exposure to natural light actually reduced the length of stay at the hospital for patients.

By honing in on the staff and patient relationship, GAP and Barts Health were able to promote energy efficiency by switching off lights in exchange for natural light, while also promoting “silent” periods to enhance patient experience. The results have seen Barts Health trim £400,000 off of its energy bills each year as part of ‘Operation TLC‘. The £400,000 savings are impressive from a business perspective, but is unlikely to resonate with staff who have other priorities and concerns. Hence the focus on patient wellbeing to engage and drive behaviour change.

Large also cites work with companies that had automated heating and light sensors that were inadvertently spreading to other parts of offices and buildings due to staff members wedging doors open. Other examples listed by Large include staff refusing to turn off lights due to the switches being place in bulk alongside 15 others.

But even if staff members are aware of energy efficiency measures, automated or otherwise, centralised control methods that are being introduced can also render this knowledge useless.

Large refers to a firm that would have carpark lights left on throughout the day at an individual store- while the store manager was aware they were on, he assumed they were meant to be as the system was automated and so didn’t report it. The surprising reality was that a bird had in fact nested in front of the sensors, leading to the automated system failing.

To overcome these potential knowledge barriers, Large suggests that companies introduce small taskforces that can help when an energy manager can’t implement the changes individually. These taskforces can account for an ability to motivate every member of staff no matter how good the engagement programme is.

Iain Walker agrees that a collaborative approach is needed if all staff are to ‘buy in’ to the concept of saving energy, and greater knowledge of energy consumption is key to provide proof of success and relevance to staff. “The onus to reduce wastage in the office is not just on the business owner – energy saving needs to be a team effort,” he says. “Sometimes you struggle to motivate people because they can’t quite grasp the consequences or because they can’t see the full impact.”

“Some businesses might want to reward their energy heroes, but whatever approach you take you’ll have to be able to back up those decisions with actual data to prove the activities are having some impact.”

Competitive cultures

By installing these taskforces, energy efficiency can begin to take prominence across other departments. One motivational technique that is known to work is competition, especially effective in retail and education.

Aston University and Sainsbury’s are among those that have tapped into a “competitive culture” to drive behaviour changes by pitching departments or stores against one another in a quest to improve on-site efficiencies. For Large, this technique is tried and tested, but will only work if the rewards for the efforts are substantial enough to encourage participation over long period of time. “Companies built with a competitive culture already have to compete with others for customers, so this dynamic works to improve performance and should therefore be used to improve energy efficiency,” he says.

“The crucial thing is that the prize would have to be worthwhile. A lot of these existing competitions have big draws at the end, your annual bonus might be there or promotions might be linked. If you are going to run an energy competition and try and tap into that same spirit, I think you will have to have a pretty good prize to keep people interested.”

Sainsbury’s has tracked around a 5% improvement in in-store energy efficiency after collaborating with GAP, which the company has attributed to behaviour change.

Measure and manage

However, cases of businesses being able to measure behaviour change and quantify the results driven are a rarity. Large believes that too many variables exist to create an actual measurement of how behaviour change has impacted a company, but that success can still be generated by driving staff engagement as an efficiency measure.

While some companies may actively monitor and watch staff to see if they are implementing changes, others may head further downstream into the data to see if improvements have been made. The danger here, Large suggests, is that energy efficiency can fluctuate based on a number of variables including temperature, new retrofits and the introduction of enhanced management systems.

“When you are really trying to prove that one behaviour change programme has made an impact, and separating that from other programmes or projects that are being implemented, isolating the behaviour change programme is complicated,” Large says. “In most situations, I’ve found organisations that have tried to do it have not really had the level of granular data that is required.

“Models exist where all other factors that affect efficiency are taken into account. They’ve accounted for every variable that makes a tangible difference to their energy system and the quantification of how much of a difference it makes when its hotter or colder; when customer numbers change and what’s left over is how people have managed the site.”

In 2016, GAP launched a new Catalyst initiative aimed at creating a network of sustainability champions that can motivate one another to mobilise the workforce. For GAP, creating these champions requires an enabling environment that isn’t always found at the heart of the business.

But, as discussed in a recent edie webinar, UK energy managers can drive employee engagement with company-wide energy efficiency programmes through simple messages focused on the positive impacts of change and the effective internal dissemination of energy and environment management systems – embedding an enabling environment for change with ease.

Top tips: Driving engagement with energy efficiency

The energy efficiency path can be a long and winding road for businesses, but cutting through it can prove invaluable for long-term success. Working in partnership with E.ON Energy Solutions, edie has compiled a list of 10 top tips to change the energy behaviours of employees, based on practical business examples. Read the 10 top tips here.

edie’s engagement month

The month of February sees edie shift the editorial spotlight to engagement, with a series of exclusive interviews, features and podcasts running throughout the month to drill down on the best way to bring the people you want on the journey with you.

From consumers to clients, investors to employees, ensuring your key stakeholders are on board and engaged can mean the difference between success and failure. edie’s engagement month will explore some of the most effective methods being used to drive positive behaviour change.

Read all of edie’s engagement content here.

Matt Mace

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