People power is crucial to energy savings in businesses

An organiation’s most valuable asset is its people. But too many are ignoring the power staff have to contribute to energy saving. Dr Phillipa Coan explained to EiBI how that can change.

“Any approach to energy management relies on three key things,” says Dr Phillipa Coan. “People, technology and data. There is just one problem. The people aspect is just not on the radar.”

Dr Coan is one of a new breed of business psychologist turning their skills towards energy management to try to turn make companies think about how their workforce can be a cost-effective weapon against energy waste. “Often many companies opt for the technology first, see it hasn’t worked, and then look for an alternative,” says Dr Coan.

The key to success is an effective blending of the technology with the psychology, believes Dr Coan. “No one discipline has the answer. That’s where the barriers exist towards progress in energy management. There has got to be a marriage.”

Her newly formed company, STRIDE, reflects this philosophy. She has teamed up with one of the UK’s most respected consultants, John Mulholland, to bring together his technical knowledge with the emerging demand for behaviour change solutions. “Getting the staff involved should be the first port of call,” says Dr Coan. “If you have an engaged workforce then when you introduce technology you are going to have more of an impact because people know why it is there and they are going to embrace it.”

One of the first obstacles to overcome is that energy managers are very used to technology and buying things to solve a problem, believes Dr Coan. “If I’m having conversations with energy managers then they must be interested. But they have so many things going on and so many other responsibilities that trying something new seems like a mountain to climb. This is where I have to communicate that the benefits of behaviour change might make their lives easier. If they have tried lots of things there might be a gaping hole that they are not facing. Without tackling the behavioural side you are leaving that gaping hole.”

But many energy managers would say ‘we’ve tackled behaviour change in our organisation. We don’t need to do any more.’ They might have scratched the surface, believes Dr Coan, but not gone deep into the science. “Organisations will often target for energy saving that’s typical for the workspace. They they’ll introduce some interventions based on something that has been seen to work for other people. This often centres on giving out information to employees, putting up some posters, and appointing energy champions.”

But there is a fundamental flaw in this approach. “This is an off-the-shelf solution with no attempt made to gather the information needed to understand what behaviour you are trying to change,” says Dr Coan. “Nobody has spoken to the staff to find out what motivates them and what their drivers might be. What behaviour do employees have the most control over? There is no point targeting a behaviour that people can’t influence such as a BEMS. What measures are measurable?”

Dr Coan also believes that the context of the target audience must also be examined, especially their capabilities. “Do they have the skills or do they have skills that can be brought from home?”

Of top importance is to determine what is the motivation of the workforce. “Your motivation might be because its inherently enjoyable or part of what you value,” says Dr Coan. “Or there might be external consequences so you might want a reward or avoid a sanction. Alternatively, it might just make you feel good about yourself.”

A common mistake is the belief that financial incentives will work. “But what happens is that it works in the short term but reduces intrinsic motivation over time. If the supply of money suddenly stops then so does the behaviour.”

Dr Coan finds that non-financial rewards such as simple praise can be just as valuable. “I recently visited a brick factory where the energy manager had been instrumental in introducing a new piece of equipment that made the whole process more efficient and saved the company a lot of money. He never got any recognition and as a result he decided not to bother. All he wanted was a letter from management to say thank you.”

Another of the key challenges is how to embed the change. Dr Coan doesn’t ant to be a consultant that goers into a company and then disappears and hopes for the best. It’s about going in and the organisation recognising that they have the solution. They have to want to change. They need to come up with the solutions, feel responsible and feel empowered. I can keep facilitating from a distance.”

It’s also crucial that a behaviour change programme fits with the overall corporate strategy, says Dr Coan. “An oil and gas company I worked with had a policy that involved people being paid bonuses if they actually owned a second car. This is a clear example of different messages being sent in the same organisation. As an energy manager you need to feel that the organisation id all linked up. It can be so demotivating.”

There s a real shift towards accepting behaviour change as a key element of any energy management strategy, believes Dr Coan. “There is so much potential out there. People are now grasping the concept that it makes good business sense to be on top of energy. People want to be proud to be part of the company they work for and an engaged workforce working towards a common goal is something we can all be proud of.”

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