Carolina Karlstrom: Behaviour change – the key to energy efficiency

Carolina Karlstrom: Behaviour change – the key to energy efficiency

This blog will discuss behavioural change and initiatives that can be introduced to make a real impact on the triple bottom line – engaged staff, reduced costs and less impact on the environment.

In the second of a series of blogs for The Planet Mark™, Carolina Karlstom founder of sustainability advisory & coaching company Jade Advisory discusses behavioural change within organisations.

Why behaviour change?

Reducing the use of energy and becoming more energy efficient is often one of the “low hanging fruits” of any organisation. Lower energy consumption will result in a reduced energy bill and will benefit the planet with a reduced CO2 footprint. So, everyone is happy; the managing director, the finance director, the marketing team, the customers and the sustainability manager! Sounds straight forward, right? If it was not for all the other people in the office.

Not long ago, Boots announced that they had succeeded in reaching its carbon reduction target three years early. They had managed to cut emissions by 33%, exceeding a 30% reduction target set for 2020. This fantastic achievement was the result, partly, of the implementation of a behaviour change programme. Another organisation, in the manufacturing sector, reached an annual energy saving of 7% because of an extensive behavioural management programme. This saving was of the same magnitude as their more costly LED lighting project, which had been undertaken at the same time.

Behaviour change programmes work: Even a smaller organisation, which does not have the financial means to bring in an expert to run a wide-spread campaign, can make a difference – with some clear structure, passionate co-workers, and a way of measuring the impact, any organisation can become more energy efficient.

SDGs

When I set out writing this climate coaching blog series, I promised that I would also share what Sustainable Development Goals the actions refer to. Being more energy efficient and reducing the use of energy which will reduce the impact on the environment is mainly about climate action, SDG13. It is also about using resources efficiently, creating staff engagement (which can lead to economic growth of the organisation), and at the end of the day, it will have a positive impact on Earth’s ecosystems.

Support from the top

To be successful in any change programme it is essential to have the support of senior management. If the organisation does not already have a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the first step would be to seek and secure the approval of the leadership team. The business case for energy efficiency, as shown above, is usually not that hard to make. Prior to seeking the approval of the senior management team and getting them on board, it is essential to define the what, why and how of the energy efficiency programme. Consider some initial questions, for example; what do you want to achieve with the programme, how would it align with the mission of the company, what energy behaviours will the programme target, what would the costs be, how will the impact be measured, and so on. It should also be considered if the organisation should set a target for energy reduction. Setting goals gives a long-term vision and provides short-term motivation.

If it is now clear that the initiative will save the company money, and reduce the impact on the environment, the leadership team is extremely likely to support it.

Walking the talk

When kicking off a behavioural change programme, it is important to show that the initiatives affects everyone, from top management to the person on the shop floor. The organisation needs to see that the leaders are walking the talk. I have used this successfully, when promoting sustainable travel. The leadership team, including the CEO and CFO, shared their commitments to sustainable travel in a simple way; they all set their own personal target and I took a photo of him/ her holding a sign with the target written down. This was then shared with staff and used to promote the sustainable travel initiative. The same can work for energy efficiency measures, for example “I will put my computer on stand-by when I go for a meeting. What will you do to reduce our energy usage?”

Champions

Behavioural change is, as the name gives away, changing the actions and everyday manners of people. The leader of the change programme can be a sustainability manager, or if that person does not exist, someone who is passionate about driving change and have been given the mandate from the leadership team to do so. In either case, getting a few more colleagues on board, can be very helpful. They will be the energy efficiency champions of the organisation, encouraging their co-workers to change behaviours and set good examples for how this is done – and sometimes police the situation if needed! I know of an office manager who kept calling out those who did not sort their waste properly in the staff kitchen. The same can be applied to energy usage and switching off appliances. If a person in a team always switches the lights off when leaving the meeting room (and says why he/ she is doing it) this good behaviour is likely to spread.

Communication

Behavioural change does not have to be rocket science, and usually it isn’t. It is about knowing what to do, why it is done (what is the point, the “so what”) and how it should be done. It is also about communicating this in a simple, clear way to everyone. The communication should be done using a range of different ways to inform colleagues across the organisation; newsletters, podcasts, webinars, face-to-face meetings and posters, to name a few. We are all different and take on information in different ways. It is important to try and appeal to all those ways in the way the communication is delivered.

Friendly competition, can be a useful technique to implement a change in behaviours, depending on the type of organisation and the organisational culture. Another, could be to reward the good deeds, sending positive signals to those rewarded and encouraging others to do the same. This reward can often be a simple acknowledgement and recognition for doing well, e.g. sharing who came up with a good energy saving idea in a newsletter.

How are we doing?

Finally, feed-back is, I would argue, as important as having the leadership team supporting the energy efficiency programme. There is nothing replacing information on how peoples’ efforts are having an actual impact. Consider using different ways of telling about the savings that have been made:

  • Express the saving in Pounds Sterling saved, AND
  • Amount of kWh reduced, AND
  • Amount of greenhouse gases not being emitted to the atmosphere.

As it is very hard to imagine how much that amount of greenhouse gas is, describe it in terms that is more relevant to people. For example, the equivalent of the annual energy usage for x homes, or the greenhouse gas emissions of y passenger vehicles. It is important to embody the kilograms or tons of greenhouse gases, as it otherwise will not mean much. Try to be innovative and think of a measure which makes sense to the business and its business model.

Being heard is also up there with feed-back. If staff is encouraged to come up with ideas of reducing energy, and perhaps even be involved in the implementation of that idea, this will support staff engagement, and is likely to produce even better results.

If you are thinking about carbon footprinting and methods to engage employees in the process, The Planet Mark™ has created a handy sustainability champions guide to help you set-up and manage your internal sustainability champions team.

About the Author:

Carolina Karlstrom runs Jade Advisory, a sustainability advisory and coaching business. She has more than 20 years’ experience from the sustainable energy sector including leading the sustainability programme of an international renewable energy company. A mother of two and a part-time student on the MSc in Sustainability & Responsibility at Ashridge/ Hult Business School, Carolina is also the organiser of the Sustainable Development Goal Network Meetup’s in London, where like-minded people get together to learn and discuss local actions towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

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