News > Energy Accountability – The key to successful decarbonization strategies

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Energy Accountability – The key to successful decarbonization strategies

January 17, 2023

Years ago, a large company in the food industry came to Cascade Energy with a problem. Their energy bills were rising and they didn’t have a plan to reduce costs. They knew that more efficient technologies would save energy, but they couldn’t commit to widespread capital investments.

Fast forward seven years and this company has reduced their energy consumption by 11%, saving millions of dollars of energy spend along the way. Much of these savings come from low- or no-cost changes to operations, setpoints, and scheduling. They achieved these results by systematically implementing nearly 3,000 efficiency projects, measuring their energy performance, and holding themselves accountable for results.

Today we want to highlight the theme of energy accountability via performance tracking. Effective performance tracking doesn’t only keep score of progress; it puts more points on the scoreboard. For this foodservice company, energy performance tracking has driven accountability and culture change. As a result, they have experienced larger and more persistent energy savings, key to their decarbonization strategies.


What is Energy Accountability?

Successful decarbonization strategies include energy management programs that create an accountability structure for energy performance that extends through the org chart. We call this concept energy accountability. Creating energy accountability means key decisionmakers and stakeholders from the C-suite down to equipment operators clearly understand their energy management responsibilities, goals, and results.

Through years of testing, Cascade has identified key energy performance tracking characteristics as requirements to create lasting and effective energy accountability. When issues arise that threaten a structure of energy accountability, the cause was invariably a breach of one of these five characteristics.

Be consistent. Energy efficiency cannot be a flavor-of-the-month initiative. The expectation that an energy management program is a long-term commitment encourages stakeholders to focus on continual improvement.

Be clear. It is impossible to create energy accountability without absolute clarity around objectives and goals. Define what success looks like, and do not move the goalposts. Be deliberate about how success is defined; a cost or percent improvement is far easier to conceptualize to a floor supervisor than a kWh improvement.

Be fair. Energy performance tracking can be a strong motivator, as long as goals are challenging yet realistic. However, if an energy goal feels out of reach, the conversation can quickly turn to excuses and despair. Factors impacting energy use like the condition of the facility, productivity, and weather must be accounted for to fend off handwringing and excuses. At Cascade, one way we have increased energy accountability fairness was to move away from ranking sites. Instead, we encourage focus on site-specific incremental improvement using performance tracking that normalizes for production, weather, and other energy-influencing factors.

Be timely. New news is more powerful than old news: reporting on energy performance from three months ago is already stale. Slow or tardy reporting delegitimizes the EM program and leads to excuses for slow and tardy responses.

Be trusted. Consistency, clarity, and timeliness all build trust, and accountability is impossible without trust. Trust is more important than precision, but mistakes erode trust. When trust in energy performance tracking is lost, the performance tracking no longer drives energy accountability.


Performance Tracking Creates Cultural Change

Let’s revisit our foodservice client who has cut their energy use by 11%. When this organization launched their energy management program, they had no concrete goal in mind. Fast forward to today, and they are on a clear decarbonization pathway, and a portion of variable pay for site-, regional- and corporate-level energy champions is tied to hitting annual energy performance targets. This culture shift from aspirational goals to concrete financial incentive could only happen once the five characteristics of effective energy performance tracking were met.

These five characteristics of effective performance tracking apply equally to creating broader energy management culture change. We’ll explore these characteristics again here as they apply to creating culture change.

Be consistent. Culture change starts with forming habits. In Cascade’s programs, energy reporting lands in every energy champion’s inbox each day, week, and month. When an energy profile changes unexpectedly, an energy champion in the habit of regularly scanning reports will be more likely to perceive the shift and take investigative action. Additionally, as energy savings are tracked over a longer period, the growing impact of energy projects becomes more visible. When stakeholders see the impact of their work, they are motivated to tackle more energy projects.

Be clear. Culture change requires a shared language around objectives and goals. Most employees cannot conceptualize the impact of saving 457,832 kWh but will be motivated by saving $50,000, reducing facility energy use by 6%, or removing the emissions from 80 cars.

Be fair. Cascade’s programs previously used a comparative efficiency metric to rank sites. This metric was normalized by weather and facility size. However, newer facilities tended to always be ranked most efficient and older facilities fell to the bottom. This type of reporting did not send a fair message. What could the old facilities possibly do to catch the new facilities other than ask for a new building? What would motivate the new facilities to get better when they knew they already landed on top? After experimentation, we found that site-specific benchmarking gave each facility more clarity on their energy efficiency performance. In turn, this clarity helped facility managers rally their troops around achieving their energy goals.

Be timely. Again, culture change starts with forming habits. When energy performance reporting does not arrive when expected, routines get altered and procedures get dropped. Conversely, when a facility manager can rely on timely energy data, he or she can develop standard procedures in response to the data.

Be trusted. Culture change requires agents of change, and these agents of change—facility managers, corporate energy and sustainability managers, maintenance technicians and others —need to operate with the conviction and confidence that the numbers can be trusted. If these agents of change lose trust in the energy performance reporting, they will struggle to gain the trust of their colleagues.


How Your Organization Can Create Energy Accountability

Your organization can successfully create energy accountability that fosters culture change to execute decarbonization strategies. Two key ingredients will get you to that goal: the right technology and the right people. Software platforms and data acquisition hardware will assist, but let’s clarify an important truth: people are the reason an energy management program succeeds. Software alone cannot assemble an effective energy team, identify energy projects, troubleshoot performance backsliding or make decisions about how to save energy. People do those things!

The leaders of your energy program need effective platforms to manage the hundreds of data streams, thousands of project ideas, and millions of data points required to support a multi-site, sustaining and systematic energy program. With the right people and the right platform, you’ve set the stage to create energy accountability to execute decarbonization strategies.

Want to learn more? Reach out to Cascade Energy to discuss how you can create a culture of energy accountability at your organization and save over 10% of your energy cost and scope 2 emissions.

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