Overcoming Efficiency Engagement Hurdles: Can It Be Done?

May 16, 2013
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Lobby display

Show it and they will save? An interactive display in the lobby of the Earth Rangers Centre shows Schneider Electric’s Energy Operations energy management software that tracks usage and generation a variety of ways. Photo courtesy of Earth Rangers Centre

Education, investments and funding for initial costs, the split incentive between tenants and landlords, pain-in-the-butt insulation upgrades, monitoring and verification (M&V) of efficiency measures, apathy, non-visibility, the fact that renting a space may account for only about 8 percent of business costs, and something that sounds to good to be true:  Could there be any more hurdles to engaging consumers, building tenants and business execs in energy efficiency initiatives?

There are probably a bunch of serious hurdles I’m forgetting about, because it makes my brain ache. The point is that engaging people in energy efficiency isn’t easy.

“Engaging people is really, really hard work,” says Susan Hunt Stevens, founder and CEO of Practically Green, which uses interactive technology, game mechanics, and social media to engage consumers and businesses in sustainability measures. Stevens spoke art the Verge Boston conference put on by GreenBiz earlier this week, where engagement was a common theme.

Following are some other thoughts on engagement from speakers and others at the Verge event:

Engaging Communities

“Residents are not there yet,” says Adel Ebeid, Chief Innovation Officer for City of Philadelphia. “You can help them with the visualization aspect and let them see the data.”

“Having the information in an interface where I can see how much energy I’m using is valuable,” says John Tuccillo, VP, Industry and Government Alliances, Schneider Electric.

John Odell, Energy Efficiency and Conservation manager for the City of Worcester Mass., says getting the first 250 participants in one of the city’s energy efficiency programs was easy, and getting the last 100 took two months. “If you can show folks that energy efficiency or energy management works, they’ll listen to you, which is real big first step, and that also builds ambassadors for your program,” he says.

Bruce Husta, vice president of smart grid solutions at Itron, says there are three groups of people: technology progressive, those who may not want tech, and the largest group of interested people. “If you have that largest group of people on board, you’re going to be successful.”

Partnerships, Partnerships, Partnerships

Practically Green

Practically Green offers enterprise-level software to help engage people.

We have got to figure out a freaking way to engage our community,” says retired Marine Col. Mark Mykelby, who heads up the New America Foundation’s National Sustainable Communities Coalition, which has set up regional clusters to promote smart growth, regenerative agriculture, and resource productivity for “Full Spectrum Sustainability” in the upper Midwest from Minneapolis to Milwaukee, in the Rust Belt of the Lake Erie area and in the Charleston-Columbia-Savannah-Atlanta corridor in the south, as well as Salinas, Calif., to Silicon Valley for an agri-tech partnership.

“We have to stop talking about sustainability as a green movement. It’s an economic opportunity,” Mykelby says, “The economics are so freaking airtight.”

At Main St., USA it’s going to be mayors, Mykelby says, and it has to be based on local resources and local ideas because that’s where we are. (And because Washington can’t be trusted to do it.) He also believes well-funded corporate America is the answer.

Heather Hendrickson, dir. of the Office of Sustainability at Harvard University has initiatives at 12 different schools running independently, and looks toward partnerships that help leverage each participant, enabling them to achieve their goals faster together.

The university has a partnership with First Wind’s Stetson, Maine wind farm and is looking at renewable offsets and turning it into a research project.

Overcoming Building Systems Obstacles

“People are hesitant because they just don’t believe it (the savings),” says Paul Laskow of Save Energy Systems, which sells efficient HVAC control and small and medium-size facilities.

Mike Zimmerman of intelligent building software company BuildingIQ says the first costs are hardest to overcome, especially if there is a split incentive between tenants and landlords, and BuildingIQ tries to get around this by selling the subscription to its SaaS platform to whoever is paying the bill. Once clients see efficiencies, they often look for more, he says.

Leadership and vision are key, says Oliver Gruner, business development director for building software company iconics. “If you don’t believe in the information on savings, you’re not going to go and ask for more.”

“The best tool someone can have is simply to have a strategy,” advises Peter Scarpelli, vice president and global director of Energy & Sustainability for commercial real estate service company CBRE.

“The thing that will change the market is the deep retrofit,” says Steve Gossett Jr., CEO of SCIenergy, which provides cloud-based energy management solutions. “In 12 to 24 months institutional capital will be large, and investments in energy efficiency will change the conversation about technologies.”

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One Response to Overcoming Efficiency Engagement Hurdles: Can It Be Done?

  1. Vincent BRYANT on June 16, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    Excellent article indeed. I have 2 things to say: 1. there are way more organisational, technical, economical and cultural hurdles than we can imagine. I tried top sum them up here (http://smartenergyefficiency.eu/the-5-reasons-why-energy-efficiency-doesnt-work-naturally/). Happy if people theirs to complete. 2. Hopefully, there should be ways to overcome these obstacles. Amongst the means to do so, such as energy prices raising, partnerships, and awarenes raising, I see one very convenient and efficient way that is: make saving energy a sexy habit. (http://smartenergyefficiency.eu/make-energy-efficiency-a-fun-activity/)

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