People power: how colleagues in other roles can help achieve your goals

Scott Parlett, Head of Public Sector at BiU, explains how to harness behaviour change techniques to drive carbon reduction.

Sometimes the conversation about energy efficiency becomes dominated by discussions of the latest tech: smart meters, smart thermostats, smart lighting systems. While these tools are important, they ignore a less glamorous but equally important success story unfolding in the energy management world.

Ten years ago, the UK government carried out an experiment in using behavioural change to cut energy use. It used itself as the guinea pig, applying insights from behavioural economics and “nudge theory” to get people who work in central government departments to waste less energy. Combining this with practical building management changes yielded impressive results: a 10% reduction in emissions achieved in just one year. This isn’t just a one-off: a North American study demonstrated savings of 8% through employee engagement and feedback, and there have been plenty of other private and public sector success stories in recent years. 

Organisations are learning this and quietly putting it into practice. The most recent Energy Efficiency Trends report has a list of which energy efficiency projects have had the most uptake from organisations, and  “behaviour change” is high on a long list. Although bringing non-specialist colleagues on board may historically have been a challenge, your colleagues could be the key to  implementing the best possible energy management strategy.

Every year, BiU works with dozens of businesses to improve their energy management, and clients expect the technological solutions we bring, such as enhanced data-gathering and consumption forecasts. But they are often surprised by how much of our work is on behavioural change. Yet this shouldn’t be completely unexpected: all the energy consumed by an organisation’s sites is ultimately because a human being made the choice to use it.

Once we have identified areas where energy is being wasted through inefficient usage and come up with more efficient processes, we carry out staff training to get everybody on board. This isn’t just about explaining the new ways of working; it is also about instilling a broader awareness of energy management, why it is important and how everybody can contribute. Our goal is for everybody in the organisation to see themselves as part of a bigger effort to cut running costs and achieve climate goals. This team spirit can be a powerful motivator.

Bestselling book The Checklist Manifesto made a powerful case for breaking down complex tasks into simple steps, and we have found that this applies to energy management just as well as it applies to surgery or airline safety. Our energy checklists are branded and tailored to the specific organisation, providing an accessible way for employees to ensure that they are following the correct procedures.

We then continue to monitor day-to-day activity, looking for opportunities to cut wastage. Our Energy Alarms use half-hourly data from your energy meters and highlight anything that appears unusual in real time. A team of experienced data analysts can then work out what is going on and suggest changes.

This ongoing process of monitoring, analysing, giving feedback and continually improving is how BiU saves its clients millions of pounds every year. Our public sector clients can then channel their savings back to supporting much-needed frontline services.

One of the reasons for BiU’s success with a diverse range of clients is that we harness people power. Rather than assuming employees will have to be dragged along with an energy management strategy, we understand that most people want to play their part once they understand that they can make a difference. Public sector workers tend to be team players who want to do what they can for the greater good – that’s why they chose the career they did.

We are also aware that the climate crisis is a powerful motivator for many employees, particularly younger workers who are just entering the job market. Research from Reuters last year found that almost two-thirds of UK workers would prefer to work for an employer with strong environmental policies, while other research has found that companies with strong green standards tend to have happier and more productive employees. If your HR department is wondering how to keep staff happy or attract the best talent, the answer might lie (at least partly) with your department.

BiU’s approach has also helped clients achieve an average reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of over 55%, and many are setting more ambitious goals after achieving their existing goals ahead of schedule.

If you’re sceptical about getting your colleagues involved with your energy management strategy, BiU could help by offering some tried-and-tested ways to boost engagement. Otherwise you are ignoring a potentially very useful energy management resouce: people power. To find out more, get in touch on hello@biu.com