Tenant Engagement Series: Company culture and energy habits

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Energy saving technology investments fall flat if your organization’s behaviour doesn’t change as well.

Read the rest of our Tenant Engagement Series for more insights


  • More than two-thirds of energy-efficiency savings in any corporation can be reaped from changes in behaviour.
  • Competition among teams, employees, departments or branches is one of the most effective ways to implement meaningful and long lasting sustainability changes.
  • Energy efficiency must become a core tenet of how your business operates and of company culture if it is going to effect concrete changes.

Every January gyms see a spike in new memberships and retailers shift more exercise equipment as people make resolutions to get into better shape.

Despite these lofty aspirations, many people quickly revert to bad habits, with many a gym membership cancelled or piece of fitness equipment collecting dust. Bad habits are hard to break, and simply buying (or buying access to) expensive fitness equipment is for naught if your behaviour doesn’t also change.

Habits can be powerful tools, and hacking your behaviour can not only help your personal fitness, but also the health of your bottom line, and the planet.

When it comes to lowering your building or business’ energy use, simply buying the latest tech is not enough to maximize your savings. In fact, in many cases behavioural changes can either augment or even supplant out-of-pocket investments.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) calculates that across the economy, at least 25% of energy efficiency potential can be accessed by changing behaviour, by choosing to invest in the appropriate technology as well as by enabling and motivating people to reassess their habits.

For businesses the potential of behavioural changes is even higher. The Economist Intelligence Unit has found that “more than two-thirds of the savings that can be achieved in energy efficiency in any corporation comes from human behaviour.”

Even your company’s dress code can become a weapon in the fight against energy waste. In Japan, the government has been promoting the WarmBiz program to encourage people to reduce their energy use by wearing extra layers, bringing a blanket to work, and not setting thermostats to above 20C.

Launched in 2005, WarmBiz follows on the heels of CoolBiz, a similar program aimed at reducing HVAC demand during the summer months. CoolBiz calls on Japanese workers to shed their suit jackets and ties, and don short-sleeve shirts to reduce AC use. WarmBiz attracted little attention until the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that threatened energy shortages across the country.

Competition and compassion most effective motivators

It shouldn’t take an earthquake, tsunami, and an exploding nuclear plant to make your business or building implement energy saving habits. If you are thinking of implementing some habit changes, you need to remember two key factors that lead to successful behaviour changing programs.

The first thing to consider is that appeals to simply ‘use less energy’ do little to motivate people to change their ways, while framing energy saving efforts with competition, status, and helping others is far more effective.

Competitions between different floors, departments, or buildings within an organization to save the most energy have been found to be one of the most effective ways to meet energy targets. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) has found that:

“By setting energy saving goals, assigning energy champions, and providing employees with feedback in how their energy use compares to that of their colleagues, businesses can reduce their electricity use by 10% [on average – savings ranged between 4-30% among organizations studied].”

The UK government instituted a competition to see which HQ building could save the most energy, with the tactics of the winning group shared as best practices with everyone else. The installation of displays of real-time usage were especially helpful in motivating people, as was regular feedback and updates.

In fact, bundling smart meters with real-time displays increased savings by 2-4% compared to only using smart meters, highlighting the importance of worker / tenant perception with regards to efficiency initiatives.

Similarly, Durham County Council in the UK started The Big Switch Off – a campaign across the entire organization involving 18,000 employees. The Big Switch Off trained staff in energy efficiency measures and then held a competition to see which group could save the most.

Encouraging workers to turn off unused computers and lights, along with lowering heating gas consumption paid dividends: within 12 months the organization saw a 17% decrease in its energy usage. Research in Ireland has also shown that with the implementation of similar simple energy saving actions the country could save 6.5 TWh of energy, or 5% of all energy used in Ireland.

Energy efficiency needs to be part of your organization’s culture

The second key point to remember is that any energy efficiency plan cannot be pursued in isolation. Starting an energy savings program that is otherwise orphaned in an indifferent company culture is a recipe for failure.

As the IEA explains, “development of an energy efficiency culture within an organization is required to provide for long lasting behaviour change.”

A common mistake is to only engage with individuals who concern themselves with energy on a daily basis, such as plant engineering, energy managers, or compliance departments. While vital partners, these groups are at the bottom of decision making hierarchies, so any successful program must engage decision makers in management.

Management (whether a condo board or boardroom) must be on board and explicitly endorse energy efficiency efforts.

From management to tenants and support staff, all actors need to be involved in energy efficiency efforts. The UK government’s Behavioural Insights Team has shown that an atomistic view is not helpful. Instead, “recent research suggests that engaging individuals as members of a community, rather than only as consumers of energy, is an important strategy for changing energy-related behaviours.”

An important way to accomplish this goal is to empower members of your organization or building to become energy advocates.

“Outside advice if going to go in one ear and out the other if your organization has not made a holistic commitment to energy efficiency.”

Alongside recommending weekly feedback communications which include energy saving tips, the SEAI recommends electing energy leaders on a weekly basis to take responsibility for encouraging others to save energy, as well as giving said leaders the power to make energy saving actions like turning off lights.

A similar idea is that of ‘energy janitors’ which was adopted by the city of Lille in northern France in 2017.

Energy janitors are one person in each (in this case public building) that acts as a link to their city’s energy department. Energy janitors are trained to monitor building performance, troubleshoot smaller local issues, report major issues to the city, produce annual energy summaries, promote energy efficiency among tenants, lead energy-related meetings and training.

The adoption of energy janitors by the Covenant of Mayors has led to a 14% decrease in heating bills, a 4% decrease in electricity bills, and a 29% decrease in water bills.

An additional benefit of empowering staff and tenants is that other building users are more likely to accept, and be receptive to, energy saving suggestions from fellow organization members as opposed to the same advice from outside sources.

Hiring an outside speaker or trainer to teach an organization about energy efficiency is going to be money down the drain if staff or tenants are indifferent or openly hostile to such suggestions from someone perceived as not understanding local intricacies and constraints.

Similarly, any advice imparted by outside consultants is going to go in one ear and out the other if the organization has not made a holistic commitment to energy efficiency by enshrining said idea within its culture.

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