Kickboxing for kilowatts: How competition cut office energy use

Kickboxing for kilowatts: How competition cut office energy use

Can a trophy and some friendly competition among employees actually spur the type of behavioral change that can power energy savings for businesses?

It’s an interesting question, given that businesses — not to mention the energy efficiency industry — have historically focused on upgrades to equipment and facilities as the primary way to reduce energy costs. Changing employee behavior as a means to significantly reduce energy consumption has largely been ignored.

But behavioral change, as well as the new technologies and social connections that facilitate them, are a hot area of interest. With building systems becoming more efficient, the human side of the energy equation is becoming larger and more important.

As an engineer in our Large Commercial practice, I am actively supporting PECI‘s ongoing research on the impact of different behavioral based approaches on energy efficiency savings. And we recently wrapped up an in-house study that allowed us to see just what kinds of savings are possible.

The Competition

The study we conducted allowed us to test different behavioral scenarios and collect data on how each scenario impacted energy savings. The study involved a competition — aptly named The Kilowatt Cup — that pitted three office floors in PECI’s Portland-based office against one another to see which floor could reduce its total plug load energy the most during a two-week span. The floor that realized the largest percentage of plug load energy savings in relationship to its baseline received a trophy, and of course, the bragging rights that go with it.

The customized Kilowatt Cup dashboard, using Pulse Energy software, provided participants with visibility into real-time energy savings and visually showed their floor’s progress towards meeting its competition goals. (Click image for full-sized version.)

Using an online dashboard and energy monitoring software developed by Pulse Energy, PECI employees were able to view their floor’s progress towards meeting savings goals and how they stacked up against the other floors in the competition — all in real-time. PECI also tapped into its in-house marketing team’s expertise to develop a series of behavioral test scenarios for each floor in support of our objective to gain better understanding of what can influence people to change their behavior around energy usage in the workplace.

For example, on one floor, employees made public pledges around energy reduction. On another, employees got daily email reminders about how to reduce energy use. And the third floor had no direct interventions.

The Results

How much energy was saved as result of the competition? The total energy savings for the two weeks was 719.2 kWh. That equates to 14 percent savings in total plug load use and a 4 percent savings of the total energy use for the office.

Survey results indicated that 86 percent of PECI employees participated in the competition. The top behavioral changes undertaken by employees during the competition were:

1) Turning off conference room monitors when leaving (86 percent);
2) Turning off desk monitor when leaving cubicle (77 percent);
3) Limiting cell phone/tablet charging (58 percent); and
4) Turning off desk light when not needed (58 percent).

Sixty-nine percent of employees checked the online dashboard at least once during the competition, with 42 percent checking multiple times. And 83 percent of participants said that they plan on continuing the new plug load energy saving practices they began during the competition even after the competition is over.

On the behavioral side, according to survey data, the pledge was more effective than the emailed reminders, but encouragement from others was most important. The floor that had the public pledge ultimately won the contest, but this floor also housed PECI’s administration team, which served as an additional advantage. The administration team was able to quickly make decisions and implement additional energy savings ideas such as turning off the copier at night.

What surprised us on multiple floors was the emergence of spontaneous leaders. On the floor that had no planned interventions, a leader quickly emerged and motivated his team members through social media. That floor ended up in second place. The winning floor also had a leader emerge to generate enthusiasm for the contest.

While this can hardly be considered a scientific study, we were encouraged by the savings numbers generated through the competition. PECI already had many power management systems in place, so reducing the plug load by an additional 14 percent as result of the competition is significant.

But the key question is: will these behavioral changes (as well as the energy savings) persist? So far, overall savings have persisted, but floor by floor shows mixed results. It is also unclear exactly which ongoing reductions can be attributed to employee behavior change and which is the result of factors outside of our control such as the number of employees per floor and equipment changes that might normally take place in a company. We will continue to study this in the coming months and plan to do another competition in the future to learn more.

So, do we have conclusive evidence on how to create permanent behavioral change around energy use at work? Not yet. But this study is another step forward in gaining better understanding of the role that behavioral change techniques can play in energy efficiency programs and serves to guide our thinking moving forward on new behavior focused program design.

Source / Fuente:

Author / Autor:  Amber Buhl

Date / Fecha: 20/06/12

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