Energy-saving technology may be aimed at reducing consumption in the workplace, but without staff input its potential will never be realised. FMs must win the hearts and minds of a building’s occupants to see cost-saving results.
By Christine Taylor
8 April 2010
Office buildings account for around 20 per cent of most countries’ carbon emissions. As a result, businesses are developing strategies to reduce their energy consumption in line with legislative and corporate social responsibility (CSR) requirements for carbon reduction, and achieve competitive advantage through lower energy costs and innovation.
To date, the focus has been on technology to improve efficiency, eg, low energy lighting. Increasingly however, companies are recognising the potential to further reduce energy consumption through engaging more fully with employees to encourage an “energy saving workforce”. As the United Nations World Business Council for Sustainable Development stated: “The behaviour of occupants in a building can have as much impact on energy consumption as the efficiency of equipment.”
A Carbon Trust survey revealed that most staff are willing to contribute to their organisation’s efforts to reduce energy consumption. More than 75 per cent of those surveyed considered it important to work for a company with an active policy to reduce carbon emissions, while 85 per cent were willing to cut their own energy use to help tackle climate change.
Nevertheless, employees are generally disappointed that companies provide insufficient guidance on how they can participate in such activities. Less than a fifth worked for companies with programmes to help staff do this.
On the positive side, leading companies are focusing on raising staff awareness of the necessity to reduce consumption. As a spokesman for the Environment Agency noted: “Our environmental strategy is very much about changing hearts and minds. The technology issues are straightforward. It is the behavioural issues which require more focus.”
Many organisations provide a channel for raising staff awareness, particularly through the intranet. Some nominate climate champions to help promote energy and carbon reduction, while others recognise significant contributions through annual staff environmental awards. In some cases, organisations link senior management performance to sustainability targets, including financial incentives.
However experience in the domestic sector indicates that feedback is the best strategy to encourage energy-saving behaviour at work. Research from the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford showed that immediate direct feedback on energy consumption leads to energy savings of between 5 and 15 per cent. Feedback makes energy visible and easier to understand and control. The highest savings are achieved when feedback is combined with specific advice on how to modify behaviour and incentives to support change.
This relies on the use of sub-metering in buildings using smart or advanced metering, which involves real-time data collection over a 24-hour period. The government’s 2008 budget stated that smart metering should be implemented by the largest 200,000 businesses by 2012.
One of the key elements to successful feedback is the use of visual, intuitive graphics, eg, dashboards displayed on personal displays on PCs or mobiles, or on digital signage. There is evidence that commercial organisations are beginning to make use of dashboards to provide feedback on energy consumption/carbon emissions against targets for the benefit of all building occupants, not just energy managers. This effective visual feedback encourages the participation of all building occupants in initiatives to reduce energy use.
Dashboards can include information on the energy use of an entire estate portfolio, individual buildings, floors, departments, individual assets and even individuals. Performance can then be tracked over time.
The impact on behaviour can be increased if organisations provide clear guidance on how staff may reduce their consumption, including turning off computers and lights when not in use, lowering the heating thermostat and using less paper for printing. Dashboards can then present the impact of specific initiatives to reduce energy use to complete the feedback loop. Individuals also need to be given training on how to interpret the graphical presentation of data that shows the impact of any measures to reduce energy consumption.
Introducing a competitive element through league tables of comparative performance in work areas can also motivate staff to reduce energy consumption/carbon emissions. Individuals or teams that achieve the greatest reductions can then be rewarded.
One of the main obstacles for staff willing to reduce their energy consumption is their perceived inability to measure and control their own usage. A study by energy firm E.ON indicated that more than two-thirds of employees at larger firms do not feel in control of efforts to reduce their energy use. They are hampered by formal processes and have no influence over FM.
The emergence of intelligent management information systems enables greater integration of separate building systems and the potential for staff to interact with the building to control their environment, ie, heating/cooling and lighting, printing and PC use.
With the development of ‘FollowMe’ printing and user authentication, one printer manufacturer has developed the capacity to collect data on individual print use. This can be presented on dashboards to motivate a change in behaviour.
Similarly, it is possible to monitor and control individual PC use via power strips, which contain smart meters to monitor energy consumption from individual desks. It is also possible to schedule the power supply for those desks based on individual usage profiles. This is particularly important given increasing staff mobility.
Behaviour change trials
A major bank conducted a pilot in which staff created a personal energy profile that could set heating and lighting settings within defined parameters. By adding tracking technology profiles could ‘follow’ staff through the building, supporting flexible working. Direct feedback on consumption completed the loop and encouraged further energy-saving behaviour. Responses from participants suggested that they welcomed the opportunity not only to control their energy use but to potentially enhance their personal comfort and productivity. However, it also highlighted the need for detailed building control zoning, which does not exist in most buildings at present.
Commercial organisations are increasingly using dashboards and digital signage to display real-time data on energy consumption, particularly performance against targets to raise awareness. Companies such as Morgan Lovell and LV= have seen significant reductions in energy consumption as a result of this detailed information provided over a 24-hour period. The most immediately obvious wastage comes from operational inefficiencies in buildings. In the case of LV= the air conditioning was found to be running overnight. By remedying the situation LV= has saved an estimated £4,000 a year. Similarly, Morgan Lovell identified and remedied a faulty heating and cooling timer switch, saving it around £5,000 a year.
There are other examples, too. London South Bank University is currently working in partnership with industry to research the extent to which visual feedback through innovative dashboard displays will lead to greater individual participation in reducing energy use. This research is also being conducted in commercial organisations. League tables compare and contrast the energy use in different work areas to increase awareness and provide an incentive to reduce consumption.
Christine Taylor is head of research at energy technology company Building Sustainability
• The behaviour of occupants in a building can have as much impact on energy consumption as equipment efficiency
• Immediate direct feedback on consumption has led to energy savings of between 5 and 15 per cent in the domestic sector