Lessons from the Corps: Engaging Employees in Energy Efficiency

By: Andrew Mulherkar, Intern, Corporate Partnership Program, EDF

What’s even more effective than an individual EDF Climate Corps fellow hunting for energy efficiency opportunities within a large corporation? All of its employees doing the same.

Faced with implementing solutions across millions of square feet of office space nationwide, the 2011 EDF Climate Corps are looking to leverage their unique roles by engaging employees in initiatives to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Here are a few of the topics our fellows are investigating:

Treasure Hunts

Energy treasure hunts are typically three-day events in which cross-functional teams of employees scour facilities for wasted energy. First developed by Toyota, treasure hunts were popularized by General Electric (GE), which has since discovered over $110 million in energy savings. These events are tricky to implement and can initially be stressful for employees. The payoff, however, is greater than just the identified savings. Through a process of discovery, treasure hunts build awareness and personal ownership of wasted energy, with the end result that everyone in the company is moving energy efficiency forward together.

Engaging Employees at Work

There are many ways that companies can encourage energy efficiency within the office. Simple email reminders and posters can build awareness of issues. Events and competitions in which employees submit suggestions for reducing energy use, like eBay’s Big Green Idea contest, foster individual competition, an element critical to any effective employee engagement initiative. Rewards and recognition are also important. The Chairman’s Environmental Award at IBM and the Earth Award at Xerox recognize outstanding performance in energy efficiency. Many companies further hold employees accountable for energy efficiency by making it a focus during annual employee reviews or by linking yearly bonuses to energy metrics.

Engaging Employees at Home

Outside the office, companies can offer a range of energy efficiency initiatives for employees: rebates for home audits and efficiency projects, subsidies for public transportation, and online platforms to engage employees in sustainability. Intel has a partnership with carbonrally.com, which challenges participating employees to reduce their own carbon footprints. In addition, Intel’s internal web portal allows employees to inquire about the company’s environmental efforts and has resulted in the creation of an on-site community-supported agriculture program.

Useful Resources

With such a variety of opportunities to engage employees, useful resources are a necessity. Here are a few of the common places Climate Corps fellows turn for help:

  • Green Impact released a report on engaging employees in sustainability.
  • Green Innovators in Business Network (GIBN) hosted a call in February on engaging colleagues and company leadership in sustainability.
  • Net Impact has hosted several calls over the past three years focusing on employee engagement (login required).
  • Center for the Built Environment (CBE) offers a web-based occupant survey to streamline information collection from employees.
  • EPA offers a Lean and Energy Toolkit that provides practical strategies and techniques for improving energy efficiency, including through employee engagement.
  • Software tools can provide customized employee engagement solutions:

Is It Worth It?

At the end of the day, EDF Climate Corps fellows must make a business case for each and every energy efficiency investment they recommend. The benefits of employee engagement, while sometimes difficult to measure, are significant. If you’re not convinced by the numbers from GE, take a look at the recent Gallup analysis that found a substantial correlation between employee engagement and business performance. Let the hunt begin!

EDF Climate Corps matches trained students from leading business schools with companies to develop practical, actionable energy efficiency plans. Sign up to receive emails about EDF Climate Corps, including regular blog posts by our fellows. You can also visit our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter to get regular updates about this project.