Is saving persuasive?

Peter Martin

An Energy Manager recently suggested that building services should be automated wherever possible - and that building users would then be persuaded by the need to take cost-saving actions. But was he right?

As a building services engineer it was not surprising that he would focus on technology and control. As a budget holder it was not surprising that he considered costs would be the best way to drive the actions of others.

In his ideal world, technology would be optimised and every person would work like clockwork. But in my experience buildings – even new ones – rarely work like that; and people never do. So often, equipment turns out to be under-specified, over-engineered, inappropriately calibrated or inadequately maintained; FM contracts emphasise client comfort over energy efficiency, the use of spaces can change and building users – who are fickle at the best of times – develop new and different aims and expectations.

On many occasions I’ve seen simple malfunctions: the lights come on when someone leaves, enforced IT shutdowns disrupt important work, the ongoing air conditioning of empty workspaces. These kinds of things are sometimes isolated one-off incidents but often they continue over days, weeks and months and even prompt ill feeling towards Estate Departments.

Many organisations do aspire to sustainability and environmental improvement. Individuals often share such goals. The values that people hold tend to be deep-rooted and thus potentially a sound foundation for long-term practice. People also like to feel involved and able to make a difference.

At the time when this conversation took place, we were working with environmental champions in another organisation. They barely mentioned saving costs. Their self-declared reasons for taking on the role were concerns about future generations, helping others and making a contribution.

By supporting and nurturing such values and their expression at work, employers can deepen the positive engagement of the workforce, potentially achieving an alignment of personal and organisational efficiencies in practice.

When people feel that automated systems impose on them or constrain their ability to make their own decisions, the potential for a shared cause can be eroded and any interest in saving costs – which tends to be a concern only amongst budget holders – is undermined.

Energy Managers might be comfortable with investing in engineering and technology but sometimes they need help to understand how best to proactively engage with building users. Only when they cease making assumptions about users’ motivations, assess the drawbacks as well as the potential of automation, and take a more holistic approach to measuring benefits, will they achieve optimum results - including the efficiencies that only people can deliver.