Energy Efficiency: A Behavioral Approach to Energy Savings

Posted: February 07, 2018
Tagged As: Electricity, Energy, Energy Bills, Energy Planning, GHG Emissions

“Energy Efficiency” is a term you have probably heard before.  What does it really mean, though?  Energy is defined as “power derived from the [use] of physical or chemical resources, especially to provide light and heat.” Efficiency is defined as “achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense.”  Therefore, the definition of Energy Efficiency is using power to its maximum potential while minimizing effort and expense.  Peter Herzog, an energy management guru, defines it as, “ensuring that energy consuming devices operate only when they need to and ensuring that when they must operate, they do so efficiently.” 
Human behaviour is often what determines when and for how long a device is in operation.  As such, changes to human behaviour can have the greatest impact on energy efficiency.  Humans interact with the buildings they live and work in, or visit everyday. Whether it is turning on lights, opening curtains, or adjusting the thermostat, these all have an effect on the building’s energy efficiency.  Organizations are increasingly turning their focus towards the human component because it is one of the simplest and most cost effective methods of improving energy efficiency.

Example of a downtown office buildings with lights not turned off after work.

Figure 1[1]: Example of a downtown office buildings with lights not turned off after work.

Challenges to Energy Efficiency in an Organization

One of the most common challenges in achieving energy efficiency is a lack of understanding in its potential for cost savings. This lack of understanding from staff often leads to a low prioritization of energy issues and change, if any, is minimal.
However, if staff can understand that small changes in their behaviour have a cumulative impact on the bottom-line, they are more likely to adjust their behaviour.  It may take some time and several reminders, but over time, employees will begin to turn off lights when they leave the room, or shut off their computer when they go home for the evening.  Before you know it, these changes in behaviour will result in better bottom line for you organization.
Staff education and awareness campaigns can assists greatly with this process, and it need not be anything complicated.  Staff education and awareness can be something as simple as a newsletter, or something more involved, like energy competitions between employees or departments.

Example of Energy Competition

The City of Burlington is a great example where a municipality used energy competitions to achieve energy efficiency.  Their Ice Rink Energy Competition was a friendly competition to reduce energy at eight of their ice rinks, recognized as the City’s largest energy consumers and GHG emitters.  Here is a summary of the savings achieved through the competition.
  • 1.8million kWh of electricity and natural gas per year
  • 16,100 litres of potable water
  • Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of 270 metric tonnes of CO2, the equivalent of avoiding the GHG emissions of 56 vehicles
  • $158,000 energy cost avoidance per year (based on actual bills)
In addition to a lack of understanding, there are several other challenges you could face when pursuing energy efficiency through behavioural change.

Resistance to Change

Change does not come easy for most of us, especially when we have behaved the same way for a long time.The task of getting your employees to turn lights off when leaving a room will not come easily if they have been leaving the lights on their whole lives.Change takes time.However, with continual education and employee incentives that reward energy efficient behaviour, your employees will adapt, and energy efficiency is achievable.

Lack of Management Support to Energy Efficiency

Management support is crucial to the success of any newly implemented program or initiative. Management can show that energy efficiency programs are a top priority through corporate emails that endorse and encourage employees to participate in a program.Having management that is vocal and active about energy efficiency can speak volumes and motivate staff to do their best.

Lack of Capacity

Most organizations lack staff with expertise in energy management. As a result, there is not often a connection made between energy efficiency and profitability.  Organizations with limited staff capacity should appoint an internal Energy Champion to coordinate energy awareness campaigns and other energy activities. This will likely mean additional training for that individual, with the intent of brining that learned knowledge into the organizational environment.  As with the education and awareness campaigns mentioned above, the training need not be complicated.  Even the smallest of changes will justify the investment in staff over time.
No matter whether you are just looking for some easy energy saving tips to implement in-house, more robust training for your Energy Champion, or something more specific for building operators, every little bit of awareness counts.  The most important thing to consider is if you are not doing something to encourage changes in your staff’s behaviour, you are probably paying too much for your energy.
[1] Shelton, C. (2015). Should Other Cities Look to Raleigh for Downtown Inspiration. Retrieved from: 01/11/18.

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