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More Than Just Turning Off the Lights – Realizing Energy Efficiency in an Office Environment

At a time when companies are trying to lower fixed cost and corporate footprint simultaneously, improvements in energy efficiency are particularly efficacious – a means of reducing cost, greenhouse gas emissions and maximizing operational efficiencies, for example. While the most value can be delivered by focusing on energy-intensive industrial applications, there is certainly space for improving energy efficiency within an office environment as well. Indeed, offices consume a higher percentage of energy than all other commercial buildings[1]. However, offices seem to offer great potential for energy efficiency improvements, due to relatively homogeneous energy demand and significant scope to develop non-technical solutions.

Energy Efficiency in an Office Environment

When it comes to designing and implementing an energy management strategy for an office, it is easy to focus on the traditional missives: turn off lights and computers at day’s end, and buy more efficient equipment, such as LED light bulbs. While such efforts can definitely lead to reductions in energy use, there are other cost-effective opportunities to
explore as well.

  1. Make Energy Efficiency a Strategic Priority – Commitment to energy efficiency must emanate from senior leadership. Without such commitment, corporate-wide acceptance and employee engagement will be difficult to implement and impossible to maintain.
  2. Audit Frequently – In order to extract maximum value from an energy management system, it is important to understand exactly the quantity of energy being consumed, and the means through which it is consumed. Quantifiable goals should be set, and progress should be tracked continuously.
  3. Engage Employees – All stakeholders must be fully engaged and invested in a positive outcome. However, this is rarely the case within an office environment. Few employees understand the true energy footprint of a building. While there is often engagement in terms of “turning off” equipment or “turning down” intensity of equipment use, few understand the role of ventilation, water use and heating, HVAC systems and the role of maintenance, for example. As such, companies should endeavor to inform, and then engage. Staff should be motivated to reduce consumption. Competitions, campaigns and team projects can be initiated to obtain buy-in. Benefits of these projects can be reinforced by giving employees a sense of ownership and responsibility.
  4. Communicate Regularly – In order to maximize employee engagement, frequent communication is paramount. Traditional awareness building communications, such as emails, posters and thematic meetings are helpful to further understanding of the problem and solution. Further, a feedback mechanism is helpful to collect new ideas.
  5. Maintain Equipment – Proper maintenance is key to ensuring the operational efficiency of company assets. HVAC systems, refrigerators, insulation and other equipment should be checked regularly, and serviced as necessary.

Certainly much value can be extracted from such efforts at little to no cost to the company. While new technologies such as motion sensor lighting can generate savings, it pays to focus on culture first.

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[1] Based on data from the Buildings Energy Data Book, a publication of the U.S. Department of Energy