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Efficiency Engagement: Turning Employees Into Energy Ambassadors

Image Credit: SME Autogas

Installing more efficient equipment is often at the forefront of an energy manager’s mind when it comes to driving down carbon emissions, but even the most energy-efficient kit still requires human involvement. Making that link, and understanding how people’s behaviour impacts on technology outputs, is crucial if building management systems are to be optimised.

This is where carbon psychology can help. It’s a technique that can be used by companies to understand the drivers behind staff behaviour change and from this, develop strategies to reduce energy consumption.

“Carbon psychology is the study of human behaviour in relation to energy management,” says Lowri Evans, low-carbon psychologist at npower Business Solutions. “Businesses need to focus on the impact that people have on energy within the business. By studying energy-consuming behaviours, we can explore how much energy can be saved through behavioural measures.”

Last year, npower released a report which suggested that the adoption of carbon psychology among British industry could unlock energy savings of up to £860 million. Evans says the research showed that the largest potential savings could be achieved in the wholesale/retail, administrative/support, and manufacturing sectors.

“Larger businesses – comprising just 1 percent of UK industry – could alone achieve 50 percent of the savings,” Evans says.

One company which has benefited from taking such an approach is Tata Steel. At the steel maker’s Trostre plant in South Wales, npower analysed a targeted section of the plant to understand behavioural drivers among staff and developed a ‘model of behaviour’ that would produce energy-saving outcomes.

One key intervention was to install a smart dashboard on-site to show the live status of all manufacturing lines. If a line should stop running, the dashboard tracks the line against a baseline energy consumption to ascertain whether or not it’s been optimally stopped. This feedback enables staff to see if energy is being wasted, and if so, what actions can be taken to remedy this.

According to Evans, analysis of energy use post-intervention at Tata’s Trostre plant showed that staff behavioural change contributed to overall savings of £500,000.

“We focus on data-driven behaviour change,” he says. “That allows us to learn about the specific behaviours within an organisational context and gain the ability to shape the energy-consuming behaviours they are engaging in.”

It’s often tricky for businesses to demonstrate measurable benefits from staff behaviour change, but one pilot programme which has been very effective in quantifying energy savings is Tesco’s Energy Ambassadors initiative. This UK-based trial involved 120 Tesco stores across Scotland (Edinburgh and Glasgow) and delivered an average 2 percent energy reduction for all the stores involved.

During the pilot, the energy ambassadors identified and assessed 70 behaviours in each Tesco store, of which three to five were targeted as areas of improvement, and followed up with relevant actions and tailored behaviour change interventions.

Tesco’s UK & International head of energy, Anna Menezes, points to the company’s Haymarket Express store in Edinburgh, where the energy ambassadors worked with store management to develop a store shutdown procedure, which included activities such as ensuring night-blinds were pulled down on fridges, turning off air-conditioning and heating units, and switching off lighting.

“Through trialling the shutdown procedure and validating savings through energy metering data, annual savings of 5 percent were identified,” she says. Menezes adds that simple activities, such as closing night-blinds on fridges overnight in larger stores can deliver annual savings of £15,000-21,000 per store, while switching hot pie stands off overnight can result in annual savings of £2,000 per stand.

Tesco is now working with its delivery partner, Global Action Plan, to roll out a wider energy awareness programme across the business, based on the pilot’s findings. Menezes says this will include all large format stores and will focus on three energy-saving behaviours: energy awareness in the bakeries; energy awareness when using refrigeration; and Fat Oils and Grease (FOG) awareness – namely ensuring FOGs are appropriately collected and reused as biofuel rather than being disposed of.

According to Tesco’s head of climate change, Kené Umeasiegbu, the company learnt a lot from the year-long pilot on how best to achieve energy reduction through behaviour change.  He says the new programme being developed will empower staff to work in more energy-efficient ways.

“This programme will be supported by senior leadership communication and embedding energy-saving behaviours into core store energy processes. The programme will focus on fewer, but higher-impact, behaviours.”

Asked how much of a contribution programmes such as Energy Ambassadors can make towards achieving Tesco’s bigger goal of becoming a zero-carbon retailer by 2050, Umeasiegbu says that improving the energy and refrigeration efficiency of stores and distribution centres is a central part of meeting this ambition.

“We set ourselves the more near-term target to halve the emissions per square foot of our stores and distribution centres by 2020,” he said. “Meeting this target requires investment in the right technology as well as in appropriate behaviours – on which the Energy Ambassadors programme focused. Employee engagement will continue to be an important element in our energy and carbon-reduction strategy.”


Maxine is an environmental journalist working in the field of corporate sustainability, circular economy and resource risk

[Read more about Maxine Perella]


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