Flick Off: The True Story of an Engineer Who Discovered His Soft Side and is Reaping The Benefits

Energy Conservation ProgramsBy: Randi Kruse

Energy managers have it tough. They are expected to deliver significant reductions in energy use across multiple locations, often with relatively small operating budgets. Since most municipalities and leading businesses have greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, it’s critical to their public reputation that their energy managers achieve success. But with aging infrastructure and constrained resources, what’s an energy manager to do?

I caught up with one of the most successful leaders in this field, Trevor Billy from the City of Coquitlam, BC. Trevor’s an unassuming and socially astute guy, the kind of person who is modest to a fault about his work and quick to notice my designer shoes. Trevor’s story is a good one because it offers insight into what other municipalities across Canada can be doing to dramatically cut their energy consumption, raise awareness about climate change issues, and reduce operating costs at the same time.

Population trends in Coquitlam are indicative of changes in the region. Greater Vancouver is one of the most rapidly growing areas in Canada, and Coquitlam is among the fastest growing municipalities with the population increasing by over 21% between 1986 and 1991, and again from 1991 to 1996. A further increase of 10.9% occurred between 1996 and 2001. Lots of people want to call Coquitlam home, and this is putting pressure on City staff like Trevor to address energy consumption in a meaningful way.

Trevor is a trained engineer and loves quantitative data. He is responsible for 130 municipal buildings and focuses his attention on the 20 responsible for 80% of the City’s total energy consumption. There are approximately 1600 staff working at municipal buildings across the community. What’s interesting is his approach to dealing with those top 20 buildings. Trevor prioritized social marketing projects “by accident” after a small pilot project with one building resulted in 10% energy reduction within one year – without any financial investments. He realized that behaviour change strategies aren’t “soft and fuzzy,” they have real numbers associated with them and significant dollar values attached to those savings.

About one year ago, the City of Coquitlam launched an energy conservation program using public events at municipal locations to build awareness of the City’s corporate climate change goals. The messaging was really about what individuals can do to support their community’s energy reduction commitments – inspiring, accessible, high level information that avoided any mention of kilowatt hours or other technical language. At the same time, Trevor implemented a framework for social marketing projects developed by BC Hydro which shifted the general awareness into specific behaviour targets. Trevor didn’t have a background in the social science of behaviour change, but instead relied on the resources and support from the local power authority. He says he is surprised that more energy managers don’t do the same.

“It’s almost irresponsible to ask for a couple million dollars from the City to install a new boiler before asking people to tune up their work stations,” said Trevor. Indeed.

Despite his success, the reaction from staff across the City has been mixed. About 20% were already aware of how they can save energy in their daily activities and were excited to see leadership from the City. The majority, 60%, needed more convincing but could be brought along and were generally supportive. And then there were the naysayers, those 20% social outliers who think energy conservation is inconvenient and resist change. Trevor says that at this stage, after one year of engaging, fun, and rewarding social marketing campaigns featuring new themes each month, the laggards are “getting outted” and are responding to social pressures from their colleagues to get power smart.

I asked Trevor why more energy managers aren’t focusing their attention on changing behaviour. “There is a technical focus and misperception that soft, fuzzy social programs aren’t worthy of their time.” The City of Coquitlam is effectively shattering the myth that behaviour change isn’t quantifiable, with consistently significant energy savings.

Another barrier is time. If you’re serious about reducing energy consumption in your business or municipality, you need to refocus your expertise on social marketing programs and away from data administration. Learn more about how Energy Advantage can save 10% of your time and give you the support you need to excel.

Conservation resources aren’t limited to BC municipal energy managers; a quick search online resulted tools and incentives for both public organizations and private companies in BC, Alberta and Ontario. What are you waiting for?

Randi is a social marketing and corporate sustainability planner with ten years of communications management experience.

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