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The Top 10 “People Factors” in Energy Management Success

ThinkstockPhotos-479533174John Lord is an Energy Education Specialist for Loudoun County (VA) Public Schools, one of the fastest-growing school districts in one of the nation’s fastest growing counties. The district serves more than 70,000 students, and utilities are a big expense and an energy management opportunity. 

In the last two decades, the district has documented more than $60 million in cost avoidance attributable to energy management activities.

In today’s guest blog, John shares the Top 10 “people factors” that have contributed to his organization’s energy management excellence:

Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) has a succinct and demanding energy management goal:

“The LCPS Energy & Environment Team will ensure efficient and effective stewardship of public resources through continually striving to reduce district energy use and cost without negatively impacting health and safety, the educational environment or productivity.”

And the school district administration have made it clear in policy documents that achieving the goal is the responsibility of everyone connected with the school system:

“LCPS Energy & Environment Team includes all students, staff, parents and other community members who make up the totality of individuals who utilize LCPS sites.”

By working with a great partner organization like Cenergistic and bringing everyone on board via a visible school policy, school administrators and energy management staff have helped to create a community-held responsibility for energy stewardship. We are a people-driven program, and I think that other organizations of all types can succeed in energy management just as we have by adopting people-centered initiatives. Here are my Top 10 people-based reasons for our long-term success:

Senior Leadership has been supportive.

The Superintendent and his Senior Staff have always been involved in energy management best practices, and time is taken (however briefly) to mention how valuable it is to avoid excessive expenditures for energy and water. They have understood that cost containment with utilities allows for a higher percentage of limited and scarce public funds to be directly devoted to instruction, rather than to operations of facilities. Even if it’s just a sentence or two, if you hear it every time you hear from the Superintendent, it conveys an incredibly powerful message.

Staff have been engaged.

Staff development activities of all different kinds is hugely important. Presentations to school faculties, involvement in employee recognition events, and taking time for group discussions or one-on-one conversations all contribute greatly to success. Knowing that people use energy, not buildings is key. Although buildings, building systems and equipment may all consume the energy, it’s the people who operate all those things. If the people know how to reduce energy use, understand why it is important, and care enough to make a small contribution to energy conservation, savings will add up in a hurry.

School administrators have been open.

School administrators who are willing and able to work with us are extraordinarily valuable. In other organizations, they might represent “middle management”. A school (or department) that is led by an individual who is proficient at incorporating energy efficiency into the day-to-day operations of his/her facility will be successful. Whether it is creating a calendar of operations for a building that allows for unoccupied setback hours, selecting the smallest HVAC zone for an after-hours activity, or managing the comfort of building occupants by supporting standard occupied temperature settings, a dedicated administrator can make a difference in many ways.

Custodians are key.

Custodians, custodians, custodians… I cannot say enough about custodians. They are perhaps the most under-recognized group of people in the world. They are handed the keys to a multi-million dollar facility and given the responsibility of maintaining cleanliness, an orderly facility, grounds with curb appeal, the list goes on and on… Custodians are the first people to arrive at a building and the last ones to leave in the evening. Having the custodial staff on the team is perhaps the single most important thing that can be done to make a successful energy management program. Custodians control lighting, doors and windows, and perform checks on building systems during weekends and holidays. They have their finger on the pulse of the building, so to speak. If they understand how their actions contribute to (and affect) the energy management program, they frequently become the most willing and even enthusiastic participants, and they play a key role in making the energy management program successful.

Facilities professionals are essential.

Facilities operations/technical/tradespersons staff members are an essential part of an energy management program. It begins with good preventive maintenance. The actions people take (or don’t take) can cause a piece of equipment or a building system to operate efficiently—or not. When equipment is well maintained, it can operate at peak efficiency. We have seen the profound effect that maintenance best practices can have, especially when compared/contrasted with poor workmanship and sloppy/haphazard work that might address the immediate complaint, but doesn’t really fix the problem. A technician who understands how he/she contributes, and who takes pride in the work, can be a tremendous supporter of the energy management program. In fact, if the maintenance staff is truly good at what they do, they already consider themselves to have energy management as a full-time responsibility.

Teachers can be examples.

Instructional staff members such as teachers, instructional assistants, reading specialists, librarians, technology resource teachers, and many others all make a difference. By managing the energy use of the space(s) they use, they are many, many hands making light work of what would otherwise be a very big job. Perhaps most importantly, they are teaching others as well. There really is no leadership to compare with example. When a teacher explains something as simple as how the students in a classroom should turn off the lights when not in use, and sets up the job of “caboose” (the student responsible for turning off the lights because they are the last one out of a room) they are instilling the values of a culture of conservation into the next generation. Every decision that is related to energy use is a teachable moment.

Support staff help out too.

Support staff members such as nurses, kitchen staff, book-keepers, secretaries, physical therapists, school psychologists, and others all make a difference in similar ways. Although each of them have a job with unique responsibilities, they all share the common task of supporting LCPS Programs and Procedures. If they are aware of how they can take small actions, it all adds up to a successful energy management program.

Students/parents can be effective advocates.

Students and parents of students far outnumber the staff in a school district. LCPS has +/- 10,000 full time employees compared to 75,000+ students. If you double or triple that number, you can determine the number of individuals who are most directly served by the school, and who benefit from the investment made by all the taxpayers. If the students and the parents know that there is an energy management program in place, they can support it. If they understand that energy management allows for student teaching and learning to be amplified because fewer dollars go to waste, their support is virtually assured. Picking up strong advocates from students and their families is another important tool in the energy management toolbox for an organization like ours.

Community members play their role.

Community members—even those with no children in LCPS facilities— can contribute significantly to program success. You’d be surprised how many organizations, such as churches, homeowners groups, Boy & Girl Scouts, participants in Parks, Recreation and Community Services activities and many other folks, can all be educated about the energy management program. Look for receptive audiences outside of paid staff, whether they be customers, partners, or even well-wishers!

It’s all about people.

The most important thing about energy management success is sharing energy opportunities and successes with others. I have seen firsthand that there is very little I can accomplish by myself. The primary credit for success does not belong to me. It belongs to the thousands of small efforts made by thousands of different people every day.

People make all the difference. EnergyCAP energy management software and ENERGY STAR are useful software tools that help us discover and highlight the energy issues. They give us the information we need to communicate value to people. An energy manager manages the actions, habits and behaviors of people who use energy as much as (or perhaps more than) they manage the equipment, systems and buildings that allow people to use energy.

The LCPS energy management program works because of all the people who make it work.

[Editor’s note: John Lord oversees the Loudoun County Public Schools energy management program, along with program co-administrator Mike Barancewicz.Their leadership has certainly been an important part of the district’s long-term energy management success. For more details on their program, read the Case Study.]