Winning Over the Workforce
Tone, Team, Tools and Techniques Encourage Energy-Conscious Behaviour
By Shui Bin
Energy behaviour programs can play a key role in improving building energy efficiency. A recent review of five such workplace-based programs revealed significantly varying outcomes depending on the comprehensiveness of the approach, but findings suggest that this often overlooked aspect of energy efficiency initiatives is a worthwhile investment with typically much lower costs than those associated with the implementation of advanced technologies.
Five programs were analyzed: three within Canadian public sector workplaces and two in iconic American buildings. They share four common strategies that contribute to successful energy behaviour programs: 1) setting the tone; 2) building a team; 3) employing communication tools; and 4) deploying key engagement techniques.
Both the energy behaviour program at BC Hydro (2007) and the behaviour campaign of British Columbia’s Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources (MEMPR) (2008) aggressively sought to change energy conservation cultures in the workplace. BC Hydro integrated the results of energy reduction into employees’ and management’s annual performance management structure, which, in turn, determined their annual bonuses, thus creating a potent incentive mechanism for participation.
The TLC Care to Conserve program (2007-2010) at Toronto’s University Health Network employed community-based social marketing. The TLC’s attention-getting banners and posters, which substituted iconic images of Rosie the Riveter and Uncle Sam with generic hospital staff images in the same context, used humour and historical association to engage participants and deliver program messages.
Green the Capitol (2007-2008) is a successful top-down energy program implanted by the U.S. House of Representatives. “The House of Representatives must lead by example, and it is time for Congress to act on its own carbon footprint,” declared its then Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, in 2007.
The development and application of the Green My Office web site is one of the highlights of the project. It provides a template for developing similar web-based behaviour change tracking tools.
A highly publicized ongoing retrofit is now underway at the Empire State Building (2008-2013). The program, which incorporates an energy behaviour component, also serves to raise public awareness of the potential for similar retrofits, particularly in high-end office buildings and/or older landmark buildings.
SETTING THE TONE
Workplaces, like any institution, have their own internal set of rules and norms. Within this mini-society, upper management has a critical role to play in inculcating the value set of the organization among employees.
Upper management can incentivize and sanction activities within its sphere of oversight and often stand as representative of the values and beliefs of the group as a whole. Energy behaviour programs in the workplace that fail to garner the support of organizational leadership are unlikely to succeed.
In each of the cases studies, upper management made a public pledge to reduce building energy use that effectively set the overall tone for the project. The case studies also show that organizational pledges made in public often lead to an organizational action taking place.
Some energy behaviour programs employ branding as a means of communications with both participants and the public. A good branding for an energy behaviour program should blend the message of business identity and program theme into an attention-getting logo or a short phrase, which may help establish not only the identity of the program, but also create an emotional attachment among program participants and external audiences.
The TLC program’s three-part brand is a good example: 1) the program name, TLC, which is an acronym for Thermostats, Lights, Controls; 2) a logo with the program name and tagline; and 3) a package of program materials. Since TLC is more commonly understood to stand for “tender loving care”, the tagline “Care to Conserve” neatly combines two program themes, health care and conservation, into one short phrase.
BUILDING A TEAM
A successful energy behaviour program in the workplace is often the product of intensive teamwork. Program committees consisting of key stakeholders with the organization are convened to head up a program, after which the committee is placed in charge of project development, coordination and communication.
Some program committees invite an outside party to be a committee member or even to take charge of program design, development and management. For example, the TLC project committee contracted a consulting company to develop and manage its energy behaviour program.
Peer champions are either volunteers or are selected by the program committee from building occupants. These peer champions act as points of contact between various on-site stakeholders and help to promote the concept of energy conservation and associated desirable attitudes across the organization through their ongoing interaction with other building occupants.
COMMUNICATION TOOLS & ENGAGEMENT TECHNIQUES
Each of the reviewed programs employed e-mail and web sites as the main communication tools to reach participants. These programs also used more traditional methods to deliver program messages at key program events and in the workplace. The use of prompts is reported exclusively in the three reviewed Canadian programs.
An energy behaviour program in the workplace above all requires sustained engagement with building occupants. The reviewed energy behaviour programs employed several common engagement techniques.
Social norms, a very important approach employed in all five cases, invoke principles of right action that are binding upon members of a group and which serve to guide, control or regulate proper and acceptable behaviour. Social norms have been widely discussed as an important approach to promotion of pro-environment values, attitudes and behaviours.
Feedback offers information to people about the consequence of their actions. Researchers have long realized that feedback was a more effective strategy than exclusively relying upon information, motivation or monetary incentives.
Benign peer pressure and competition, employed in the BC Hydro and MEMPR cases, refers to the influence of a peer group on its members with respect to changes in attitudes and behaviour deemed preferable in a working environment.
Rewards, employed in the three Canadian examples, are compensation for desirable behaviour. Rewards send positive signals to those rewarded, thereby reinforcing a desirable behaviour during the learning process. Rewards can be financial; however, respect, visibility, credibility and authority are equally or even more sought as rewards in a working environment.
COSTS & BENEFITS
Among the key cost items of an energy behaviour program, labour costs varied among the five studied programs. For example, the TLC case hired a consulting company to develop the program and manage its program committee, while the project committee of the MEMPR case consisted of green-minded volunteers recruited from among building occupants.
Purchase and installation costs or equipment and meters could be the largest part of project expenses in energy behaviour programs, especially for a meter-based feedback project. Therefore a feedback project should carefully conduct a cost-benefit analysis prior to the launch of such a project.
Among the key benefit items of an energy behaviour program, the spillover impacts may be manifested in two ways. First, other parts of the organization, which were not initially targeted in the energy behaviour program, may see the success of the program and later elect to actively participate in the program. Second, another possibility is a change in participants’ own thinking and activities. Following participation, they may become more active in their own energy-saving practices.
It is clear that the cost items are more easily expressed in monetary terms, while the majority of the benefit items are intangible and therefore more difficult to measure in quantitative terms. The difficulties of measuring and quantifying benefits often lead to the absence of cost-benefit analysis in energy behaviour programs, which may lead to these programs being undervalued or absent in the mainstream energy efficiency initiatives advocated by federal and state/provincial governments.
The lack of such a working cost-benefit accounting framework for energy behaviour programs, however, should not be considered an obstacle to upper management of companies seeking to promote building energy efficiency through behavior change of their employees. The low-cost nature of energy behavior programs poses little risk to the profitability of enterprises and involves few disruptions to operations or work schedules. Conversely, these programs could bring valuable benefits to the workplace (e.g., a green image, improved ethics, and reduced energy expenditures), and more broadly to homes, communities and society at large.
The preceding article is excerpted from a January 2012 report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, Greening Work Styles: An Analysis of Energy Behavior Programs in the Workplace. For more information, see the web site at www.aceee.org.