Energizing your workplace

March 16, 2012
Written by Chris Hanlon
Sustaining staff interest in conservation

Technology can save energy dollars, and strong management – including staff awareness – can save energy dollars. But if you put the two together, you have a winning combination for maximizing your savings.

In some respects, implementing new technology can be a simpler task than changing your business culture, but the latter is an essential part of your overall energy plan. Today, we look at the top-end of energy management – changing culture to involve employees.

In case you haven’t noticed, the underlying theme of all of our articles to date is, “Have a Plan.” The issue of changing culture fits this approach.

Businesses often start out with great enthusiasm, asking employees for suggestions, posting reminder notices and holding pep-rally-type meetings only to fall short on the follow-through, resulting in the momentum withering and eventually disappearing altogether. Ultimately employee support actually turns against you ... if you do not follow through.

As with any plan, someone has to be the leader or champion. Your leader – maybe it’s you – has to be empowered to make decisions and get things done. Depending on the size of the facility, your champion may also need to assemble a team of volunteers. This team will assist you and, with luck, will be a resource you can draw on to facilitate a multi-faceted approach that helps you lower energy costs. A key point to remember is that employees have a wide range of talents, sometimes unseen, and when you get them bought into your needs, they become that valuable resource. You should expect no less from every person.

The first priority in culture change is to set an attainable energy reduction target. If it’s too high, your staff, including yourself, will feel defeated and lose interest if you do not hit that goal. To set a realistic goal, you will need to look at your past energy consumption over at least a two-year period and be aware of the equipment and processes that are responsible for the majority of the usage. Certainly in greenhouses, curtains, boilers, fans and many times lighting are high on the list, but don’t underestimate the combined effect of the rest of the operation on the total consumption.

Greenhouses often restrict their conservation efforts because of the types of crops being grown but that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities to be had. In these instances, it is extremely important to look at processes as well as retrofitting equipment. We are all guilty of doing something a certain way because that’s the way it has always been done.

The next decision is how your team can start to engage the rest of the staff. This will require excellent communication right from the start.  Everyone MUST know the goals and understand the reasons behind them. This communication helps to make employees’ goals the same as your goals. You might consider starting off with a conservation seminar/training session held by your champion or an outside instructor. Alternatively, maybe a kickoff party and a lighter approach is more your style. However you decide to begin, the key message should be effectively communicated to everyone so that there is a good understanding of where you are and what you are trying to achieve as well as the expectation that all staff will become involved.

Usually the best conservation suggestions come from the people directly involved in the day-to-day operations. So consider staging contests or suggestion discussions with a reward and recognition component attached. Try asking everyone to come up with one suggestion each week to help reduce or save energy.

Speaking of suggestions, the “kiss of death” for this type of initiative would be to ignore the ideas put forth. Not all suggestions will necessarily have merit or be appropriate for your facility, but every single suggestion should be acknowledged and the reasons to adopt or not should be conveyed to the originator of the idea. Also, regular progress reports should be communicated to the entire organization. It really doesn’t matter whether you do this through a newsletter, via e-mail or post a notice on the bulletin board as long as the information gets out there.

Constant encouragement and praise for a job well done will go a long way towards sustaining staff interest and, while you’re at it, don’t forget to celebrate!

Spend the time to find out what motivates your employees and use that to your benefit. You will be happy to know it is not always money!

On top of the energy dollars saved and the positive impact on the environment, conservation is good for business. Customers appreciate dealing with a responsible organization so don’t forget to spread the word beyond your own walls.

There really is no downside to employee engagement, so get going!

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