Electricity has become the lifeline of households and offices alike. It is almost impossible to imagine life without electricity. It is an integral part of houses where it helps to accomplish day-to-day activities and in offices, it ensures a smooth functioning of work. And being such an important resource, it is vital to save electricity.
The idea of saving electricity is entirely different in these two fronts of a house and an office. In a house there are a limited number of people whose usage habits can easily be determined and optimized accordingly. This is not the case in offices. Optimisation can be a challenge in bigger offices and commercial spaces where different strategies and tools will be required to motivate the workforce to avoid wastage and hence save electricity.
Efficient appliances make a big difference
Conservation of electricity comes after you have bought an appliance, but the actual savings of electricity starts before that, when you are planning to buy a new appliance. It is seen that buying an energy efficient appliance is itself a very effective way to reduce energy consumption. So if you make a decision of buying an energy efficient appliance, you already have took the first step towards energy conservation.
For helping people to choose the most electricity efficient appliance for their needs, we have written various articles on Bijli Bachao to encourage and help people making a well-informed decision. One can refer to the articles and have an idea about what are the important things which one should keep in mind while buying an appliance. However in offices, buying efficient appliances is not the only thing that you can do to save electricity. The problem is a bit more complex and let us see how.
Why saving electricity in offices is a challenge?
It is easy to change one’s own behavior in terms of saving electricity, but when it comes to motivating other people (your employees) to save electricity, the task becomes quite difficult. This is because those people (your employees/workforce) are not responsible for paying up for their electricity consumption. In technical terms, this is referred to as the Principal Agent problem. This occurs when a person/an entity (the agent) takes decisions on behalf of other people (the principal). It can be a challenge as both the parties involved will want to act in self-interest, neglecting the best-interests of the other. The figure given below aptly explains this dilemma:
Being the owner/manager of the office, what can I do?
Now the question comes, what can you do as the owner/manager of the office, where you are the one paying the electricity bills for the overall electricity consumption of the office?
Bringing behavioral changes in your workforce can be a strong tool to curb the electricity consumption to a significant extent. This is because the problem of unnecessary electricity usage (which leads to wastage) is a part of the behaviour of your workforce. So in order to tackle it, the best way is to promote some behavioral changes in the way people work.
Human beings are social creatures. They want, and tend to behave like everyone else around them. To bring about a change in the way people think and behave, one needs to make some simple and effective changes to the setup which governs the nature of people.
Some methods that worked wonders in the past
1. The Challenge for Sustainability an initiative by City of Boston launched in 2009 is a program to leverage the environmental leadership of Boston’s private sector, has involved more than 100 businesses and properties to meet the sustainability standards as well as develop new ones to enforce to conserve electricity. It uses a combination of the data of monthly usage and network meetings to engage participants to save energy. Not only electricity, it is a wholesome program which promotes the conservation of other resources like water and clean-air as well. The participants receive free energy audits for facilities under 300kw, a dedicated support from Challenge staff and many more things. The results of this program are staggering. Only in 2013, 18 million kWh saved, 6000 tons of CO2 emission was reduced and $1.4 million was saved.
2. The University of British Columbia (UBC) made a Facebook application called My Every Day Earth which promoted the participation of people through various activities to increase the engagement of the students living in hostels and the general public. The program consisted of several activities like Do It Daily, Do It Together and so on which were performed by the participants daily. At the end, each participating team was provided with points and the team with the maximum points in the end would win. This program reported a saving of almost 200 units (or 6.73% energy savings) per day.
3. Office building employees in Charlotte, North Carolina took small steps save energy. These steps made a considerable difference on electricity bills. The Duke’s Energy Program, helped participating customers in saving approximately 6% energy over 3 years, exceeding the goal of 5% which they had set and which was enough to power nearly 2,600 homes for a year.
Influencing the behaviour of people can be a challenging task. In fact according to a study, 40-85 % of our actions are automatic i.e. part of our lives like habits. It is because human beings like working and behaving in a routine. Encouraging them to do otherwise and accept a new routine takes some efforts. Behavioral theory has been used with good results in many areas and it is certain that it can bring a significant change in the energy-saving sector as well.
To influence the general behaviour of people, a few key things work wonders. For example, if a new idea is put forth by any random employee of an organisation, then it might not receive as much attention and consideration; but if the same idea is presented by the founder or the CEO of the organisation, then it is sure to attract eye-balls.
Here are a few suggestions to encourage people to make some changes in the way they behave (with respect to the idea of electricity savings)
1. Getting the message across effectively: First of all, it is very important that a new idea or practice is introduced/presented in such a way that people feel motivated (or interested) enough to take the first step towards the idea. So if you are planning to take up a new initiative or thinking of introducing a new protocol in the office which aims at saving energy, then it would be a great idea if it is introduced to the employees by someone whom people can associate with (like the CEO/Founder/a very senior employee of the company, celebrity and so on).
2. Incentives: After the idea is effectively communicated to the people, providing suitable incentives can be very effective in making people interested in the idea. Whenever a new idea is presented to a person, he/she tends to look for potential benefits which could be generated out of it. Here are some examples of incentives:
a) Financial incentives (like bonuses or cash prizes) work best for persuading or motivating people to accept a new idea or practice. If your electricity bills are too high, then you can start an electricity saving campaign in your office and award the best performer of the month with a bonus. This will encourage other employees too, to make a conscious effort to make a change in their electricity usage patterns.
b) Jae Mathers, director of sustainability at chartered accountants HW Fisher, printed out post-it notes of different colours (red, green, blue and yellow) with innovative messages like “Congratulations! you turned your computer and screen off. Here’s a free Fairtrade chocolate” and “Sorry, unfortunately you forgot to turn off your computer/screen today so you missed out on getting a free chocolate.” After following this exercise for a few weeks, positive results began to show.
c) In the above example, gifts and prizes can be awarded to the people in the office who save the maximum electricity in a month.
3. Obligation: People tend to pay more attention towards an idea when they are under an obligation of doing so. In order to ensure that there is a wide acceptance of a new idea, new recruits can be made to sign some agreements/contracts, by signing of which an employee agrees to adhere to the policies and practices of the organisation in this regard.
4. The Default mode: As we discussed earlier, people generally like to “go with the flow” and refrain from making any conscious efforts to do something for an idea. That is why, if the “default” setting of a particular appliance is set to an efficient level, people will not notice the difference and prefer to go with the flow. For example, if you buy an air conditioner, then you can set the default temperature of the AC to the minimum comfortable level in order to save electricity.
5. Relevance: We believe something which we find relevant to ourselves. Same goes with the idea of electricity conservation. People should feel that this is something which can help make a big impact on the environment and thus connect with the idea. Being the owner of an official space, if you can demonstrate to people how much difference they are making just by switching off the lights when not needed, it will connect with people. This can be done my making a graphical representation of the electricity consumption of the entire office and the contribution of a particular individual towards it.
6. Emotional association: This is a very strong way to propagate an idea. If a person feels connected to an idea emotionally, then there is nothing like it. In order to make people identify with the idea of electricity conservation emotionally, you can demonstrate the effects they are making to the environment and the entire world. Documentaries and videos related to electricity conservation (and how some parts of the world are still not getting adequate supply of electricity) can be screened to make people connect with the idea.
7. Recognition: A lot of our actions are driven by our desire for getting recognition among our colleagues. You can organise some contests like “The Biggest Saver” or “The Monthly Energy Challenge” to motivate people to take part in this practice. At the end of the contest, the winner can be awarded at an office meeting so that others also get encouraged to perform better and make sustained efforts to save electricity.
There are many other ways to propagate this idea among employees. Interactive games can be made around the idea, friendly reminders with emoticons can be automatically sent to employees to switch off the appliances before leaving, innovative posters and signs can be made and pasted on the wall near the switchboard and so on.
Consistency is Crucial
The most important aspect of saving electricity is becoming consistent with the efforts that you are taking. Saving energy is a initiative which takes small but consistent steps to make drastic changes in the overall electricity consumption. So make it a norm to have such contests and campaigns on a regular basis, rather than organizing an event once in a while and proposing ideas, as it will not become a part of the behaviour of people.
In order to influence the way in which people behave, it is important that your efforts are well-planned and consistent. In the words of Aristotle, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
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