Last reviewed 19 November 2019

In this second of two features, James Brittain, Director of the Discovery Mill, considers how everyday champions can respond to the challenge of embracing change and push their organisations toward energy and environmental success.

The challenge — energy management through people

Most of the energy we consume in the UK is used to keep us comfortable and to enable us to undertake our tasks. It is our behaviours and attitudes that define the environment and processes we need. The way we run our buildings and facilities determines how we service these needs. When most people talk about energy they think about energy policy and environmental technologies; but when it comes down to it, energy, in its simplest form, is an operational behavioural issue and we all have a role to play in actively improving the way we use and abuse it.

Just like most things in life, energy use has to be about delivering best value from what we’ve got — this has to be a process of optimising our objectives: better customer service, cutting costs, pruning environmental impact and enhancing the reputation of the companies we work for.

However, in practice, we are all human and naturally risk-averse, so we typically err on the side of caution; we over-provide on service or we don’t really focus on what the customer needs. Because of this, there is a part of any service we deliver that does not add any value to the customer, what we call “avoidable waste”. We find there is usually at least 15% that can be saved and, when you act on this, there is quite often another 15% that becomes available.

The challenge to all of us, at work and at home, is to find improvements and act on them. This is a great opportunity for anyone to get more involved, take pride in only using what you need, and develop your own skill-sets and performance to give you an edge for the future.

To make the most of this opportunity at work, the practices and the metrics (measurements that allow you to measure success) that everyone involved should adopt are as follows.

1. Make it local — personalise it

The best starting point for any champion is to put an energy-saving hat on and go out into the areas you know well and look for improvements. Ask your customers for feedback on what is important to them and try to identify and eliminate the avoidable waste. We often suggest arming yourself with a camera and taking pictures to help you visualise opportunities for yourself but also to report and discuss ideas with colleagues.

Look for ways to reduce power consumption for any equipment and services you may use. You need to think about the operations, technology and behaviour aspects to find a more efficient way of delivering service. We call this process “on-demand” energy management, making sure you only use what you need.

Within a university environment, for example, we ran a series of “Big green” events to help bring together staff and teams with different perspectives, to promote key messages and to make it easier for people to influence their colleagues. The 300 or so best ideas were put together on the “Big green” wall to give a snapshot of the things that could be done, help co-ordinate action and make connections between everyday champions. This gave staff the chance to get more involved and helped to visualise the local vision and the overall challenge.

A metric to use: “Number of ideas”. This simple metric tracks ideas to make sure actions are more local, visible and meaningful, whilst encouraging healthy competition between teams.

2. Make it focused

It is very easy for champions to waste months of their time and efforts only to end up saving just pennies. Your effort needs to contribute to company progress, and the best way to do this is to offer your local expertise and creativity to help review operational requirements and look for new and more efficient practices that are “on demand”.

Most organisations sensibly adopt a Lean, Clean and Green approach to energy strategy (also called the energy hierarchy). The first step is to closely match service to customer needs (Lean). Organisations can then improve the efficiency of their building services systems and facilities (Clean) and invest in renewable energy supplies (Green).

Focusing your efforts on matching customer needs (you as the expert) is often the most cost-effective way of reducing energy consumption and also right-sizes any subsequent investment in energy supply infrastructure. If you have the chance, invite an energy or environmental manager (a guru), or one of your technicians or service partners (your specialists) to help you survey your area with a fresh pair of eyes.

Heating is often the largest energy cost for many buildings. The university has been able to make savings by consolidating its use of workspace and switching off buildings that are no longer needed. In other areas, they have been able to turn down the temperature by 1°C (to save 8–10% of their heating bill) and reduce uncomfortable cold draughts using draught stripping. Technicians are checking for systems not working optimally, are making improvements in maintenance practices, and replacing inefficient equipment and insulation. This all adds up and the university is targeting savings of over £150,000 a year in reduced heating costs.

Whatever the equipment or service you are reviewing, there are usually three key questions you should be asking.

  1. Is it needed? — Switch it off.

  2. Is it over-providing? — Turn it down.

  3. Is it working as intended? — Fix it.

A metric to use: “Quick win” savings. We use a 30-day saver “bottom-up” tracker to focus effort, to allow champions to report on quick progress and to help initiatives develop momentum.

3. Make it continual — work together

Quick wins are about individual champions working by themselves in areas they know well. We find big wins come about when champions and teams work closely together.

ISO 50001 and tools such as Display Energy Certificates promote the concept of continual improvement. This is about getting fit and staying fit; for the engineers, it is a process of continual commissioning. The mind-set needs to be one of challenge, to try doing things differently, asking for feedback and continually improving as you go.

We find many organisations still prefer to wait for the big step change project. This is a lost opportunity: there is no on-going management of change. It is much better to take an incremental approach to making improvements — you learn and make savings as you go and you’ll find the step changes happen naturally.

Working within an airport’s engineering team, we set up innovation trials looking at different ways to improve lighting by involving people across the airport. Local staff reported over-lit areas in which technicians could remove surplus fittings and install basic controls (quick wins). Engineers trialled different solutions: from easy-fix retrofits (saving 30–60%) to the latest LED fittings (saving 50–80%). Local facilities staff looked at the best ways to switch and control lighting locally (saving up to 90% in targeted areas of use). We brought all of this work together into a simple menu of standardised and proven lighting solutions, which was used to roll out a £1 million lighting upgrade project to save at least £400,000 a year (2.5 year payback). Using a people approach meant bigger savings and a quicker payback: everyone took pride in knowing that the right solutions were being used, with the right people optimising performance, in the right way and at the right time, continually making sure the airport only uses what it needs.

A metric to use: “Year-on-year energy reduction” on a building and site basis. This is a key driver for many organisations — we find it works best when managed alongside “bottom-up” metrics for everyday champions.

4. Make it desirable — deliver the “win win win”

Of course, energy projects are about cutting costs and carbon emissions and improving customer service (the “win win”), but to give the process an element of discovery it also needs to ensure there is something in it for the people involved.

  • CEOs and directors may prioritise projects that deliver big savings at minimum cost, ie those that lock in savings year-on-year and help make the organisation a leader in the industry.

  • Energy and environmental managers like ways that help accelerate the change part of their strategies, particularly ones that work for them in an invisible way.

  • Service partners and suppliers may value user feedback to help them improve their products and services and give them a competitive edge for the future.

  • Local staff and managers often take pride in delivering a better service and developing their skill sets and performance to give them greener eyes for the future.

Giving people the tools that help focus effort and highlight benefits makes it easier for them to do the right thing.

We find that many new appliances are still bought on a “buy the cheapest” basis, which satisfies the key priority of the buyer. We use a simple tool to help people review best buys taking on board everyone’s perspectives. A++ fridge freezers can deliver the “win win win” over A and A+ models, offering lowest life-time cost, over 50% reduction in carbon emissions and better features for users. Once you have used the tool, you will have an edge when it comes to buying the next fridge freezer for the home.

A metric to use: “Positive outcomes”. We find tracking positive case study stories is a good way to monitor success, demonstrate capabilities and actions that count, and promote the benefits for the people involved.

Metrics that sizzle

Look for metrics that measure success but also help generate a green spark and sustain momentum over the longer term to ultimately deliver your commitments to energy and climate change.

Here are a number of metrics that are part of your toolkit to employ as appropriate.

  • Make it local — Number of ideas.

  • Make it focused — Quick win savings.

  • Make it continually— Year-on-year energy reduction.

  • Make it desirable — Positive outcomes.

The best metrics to use depend on the culture and the characters involved. Some people like to get things done quickly; others are team players or like to focus on the detail, and for others still it needs to be about competition. Set metrics that reward you for embracing change and allow you to use your local knowledge and expertise, and which allow you to take pride in only using what you need and give you an edge for the future.