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Engaging senior management in energy

January 2017

While energy has been on the radar as a facility cost to manage, it has yet to become a strategic imperative at the senior management level. A new article in the Harvard Business Review makes the case for energy strategy to be a C-suite affair.

Why now

In Ontario, structural restrictions to lowering electricity prices in the short and medium term mean higher electricity prices are here to stay for the foreseeable future. With the addition of Ontario’s new Cap & Trade program, the federal government’s commitment to increasing carbon pricing across the country and water costs as an emerging issue, senior level operational decisions in organizations will increasingly impact energy and water costs.   

In our advisory work, we’ve seen that organizations who manage their energy costs most successfully from year to year all have in common clear support of senior management. This finding is also echoed in the HBR article. And we find this across sectors. Energy practitioners in less successful organizations do what they can but often in isolated, ad-hoc, reactive type activities. When a senior executive is a committed advocate, they establish an attention level across the organization for vigilance and action around wasted energy and water use. They make it easier for energy staff to do their jobs with less work friction and inefficiencies.

What’s required

Data: Most businesses and institutions have consumption data somewhere but it’s often not readily available in a form that can convey meaning and impact to management. Make consumption and cost data accessible. There are lots of tools to help here.  

Senior managers relate to benchmarks of peer facility energy performance which can establish realistic goals and savings potential. 

Policy and accountability: Guided by the senior manager, set energy strategy direction, rules and programs of energy management and align across the organization. Establish clear roles and responsibilities which support individual performance and empower energy management staff to fully harness the resources at their disposal. 

Goals and targets: Using consumption data and benchmarking, set clear objectives for consumption reductions year over year. Adopt and integrate management practices and programs to better control energy and water use and energy purchasing while considering energy and carbon risk. 

Roadmap: The senior manager oversees development of the strategy and roadmap by energy staff and ensures other departments are aligned with the plan. The energy roadmap should specify areas of focus and priority, resource commitments and management systems such as reporting and communication. 

Organizational benefits

The most direct and obvious benefit of senior management commitment is the organization will manage their facility energy and water costs much better, in both use and energy procurement. Management will be better informed when approving those resourcing decisions - operational, staffing or capital investments – and have greater confidence in the outcomes. 

Senior management will be more assured the energy budget is optimized to cover what is needed and no more. Then the savings can be put to other core priorities of their organization. Budget surprises are reduced and at the same time, resilience increases against energy price shocks. 

Elevating the energy file to senior management oversight provides them with a ready catalyst to move an organization’s culture. Employees will pay more attention to consumption data, foster sharing across departments on opportunities to reduce waste and be more sustainable, celebrate successes that make a difference beyond the organization and be proud of their work and accomplishments. 

One senior manager at a school board challenged its new energy manager to change the board’s culture to become more sustainable.  Another resolved interdepartmental priority conflicts through the shared value of continuous improvement. 

How an organization prioritizes managing energy and water is a reflection of its environmental stewardship. This is visible to stakeholders. It’s also a proxy for sound management and how well an organization can adapt. 

The creation of an energy roadmap is an exercise itself in engaging stakeholders, from senior management to dispersed staff. Done well it integrates energy into daily operations, employee mindsets and enhances an organization’s culture. In today’s environment, it’s an opportunity that’s become a necessity.