Mark Batchelor of Digital Carbon Group continues from his first piece, Quick Wins in ICT: The tactical approach, with a second entry; this time focusing on engaging the employee.
The previous article discussed the tactical and technical side of energy management software providing a Quick Win in terms of energy savings and carbon reduction. However, there is an increasing awareness of the potential in engaging a workforce in any sustainability agenda. Can this ‘soft factor’ change IT from just being a target for energy savings into a focal point for such initiatives?
In order to answer this, you need to consider the way companies are being managed and measured, and the role of employee engagement. The Triple Bottom Line (or People, Planet, Profit) have been increasingly used as a way of both categorising the achievement of a business and as a set of guidelines for managing it. We feel that a fourth ‘P’ should be added in the form of ‘Policy’ and by this we mean internal policies that a company sets for itself, such as ‘20% cut in carbon in two years’, and external policies in the form of legislative criteria that a business must adhere to.
When viewed with this perspective, an IT network suddenly has the potential for becoming a significant vehicle for business change, aligned with how businesses now think.
A key to this alignment is Employee Engagement. Any software system should not be solely dependent on user interaction as there should be passive energy management built in, but by engaging users to act there is a significant increase in savings and a gradual shift in behaviour that can nudge how a workforce behaves, and not just while using their PC.
While ‘employee engagement’ appears to have a multitude of definitions, we have developed four components which work well in the IT context.
- Awareness. Most people (employees) are aware of why energy efficiency and saving carbon are important. Studies show that about 15% of us are desperate to save energy whenever they can and will make a big effort to do so. Great, these guys are easy to motivate. About 15% of us think the whole thing is a scam and/or they won’t be told how they should behave! Forget them, they’ll come round or maybe not, but will take disproportionate efforts to get results. The rest of us (70%), now feel a bit guilty that we’re not doing much and would do something if it was easy and we didn’t have to change how we live or work.
- A simple way to make an impact. Given that most of us are ‘open’ to doing something if it’s easy, software can provide a mechanism for user adjustment of energy management themes so that the user now feels like they have some control. (For IT guys terrified at the thought of an end user adjusting anything on their PC beyond brightness and volume, there are ways to set parameters for user adjustment.) Now we feel at least a little bit empowered to make a difference.
- Feedback. Based on our own behaviour, and in metrics that we understand such as ‘car miles not driven’, feedback on our personal performance. We all know that each of us can make a little bit of a difference, but how much? If I’ve saved 300 grammes of carbon I’ve no idea if that’s good or bad, but if I save 12 car miles this month – ‘hey, that my kids school run!’, then it has some meaning. These metrics can be humorous, such as the carbon equivalent of a cheeseburger (which is astoundingly high) to metrics related to the business in question. A recent Ad Agency client requested ‘cups of cappuccino’ as a metric which mirrored their work. Of course goal setting and ranking between employees or departments bring all this to life and give it some focus, but feedback makes activity feel effective.
- Reward system. Maybe its actual cappuccinos or cheeseburgers, or something else for the company, but some form of recognition is highly motivational. The main element here is about creating a dialogue with staff around sustainability issues, not just saving power. One study suggested an additional 15% savings as a result of engaging users.
Further innovations will mean that in the future we will monitor our own carbon usage and adjust our behaviour accordingly. Businesses switching to video conferencing for certain meetings rather than miles driven and flown by lots of employees are seeing major carbon benefits as well as a great cost saving for the bottom line. Other areas are emerging as opportunities for energy management - IP phones for example, are great on call charges, but buzz away at 8-10 watts an hour and most are only used 5% of the time.
In the future, energy management software will not be confined to the PC but will provide a focal point for activities and carbon reduction – via a smartphone, an iPad or simply on a PC or laptop, the next generation of software will be exciting. Perhaps the most exciting developments will be around dialogue with users, not just a simple message or some feedback, but genuine communication about the sustainability initiatives being pursued by a company. We know that people are ‘open’ to doing something if it’s easy to do and engaging.
Energy management can be far more than a glorified on/off switch for networks of PCs. Energy management software tools have the potential to help sustainability become ‘mainstream’ in how a company does its business, whether they call it the Triple Bottom Line or something else, it can have a virtually immediate effect. The detailed reporting and analysis that provides business intelligence about carbon, user behaviour and hardware utilisation can enable medium to long term efficiencies to be achieved in addition to the short term benefits. Energy management when applied strategically can help to align an organisation with a sustainable business approach which offers benefits in carbon reduction and cost savings.
Definitely a Quick Win for most organisations - maybe we can have it all ways.
Read Mark's previous blog Quick Wins in ICT: The tactical approach.
For more on employee engagement, read Engaging for Success
For other ICT wins, watch Saving Energy through ICT.