The Workplace as Consumer and Producer of Energy: A Global Perspective

By: Randy Michael
Mar 16, 2016 12:15 PM ET
Randy S. Michael, LEED AP, CEM, CEA, CEP, CDSM Senior Director, Energy Management Services, Sodexo North America

The Workplace as Consumer and Producer of Energy: A Global Perspective

This is the fourth in a continuing blog series based on insights and findings from the Sodexo 2016 Workplace Trends Report. The Report examines nine key trends affecting business outcomes and the quality of life of employees and consumers. To learn more, access the full article: Smart Energy Management: A Win for the Environment, People and Business

A direct line can be drawn between making buildings more efficient and saving the planet. I show that correlation in an article I wrote for The Workplace Trends Report: Smart Energy Management: A Win for the Environment, People and Business. Here are a few of my key points.

The concern about global warming continues to grow. Greenhouse gases increased at an average annual rate of 1.4% between 1990 and 2013. A new United Nations emission protocol focuses on achieving climate effectiveness through reductions in net greenhouse-gas emissions of at least 60% by 2050. Clearly, aggressive action is needed to reach this goal.

In the workplace, smart strategies to reduce energy can improve the entire energy chain. Facilities managers can strategically plan how and when they use energy— from lowered use when energy prices are highest to initiating plans to conserve energy. By implementing an action plan, businesses can reduce their carbon footprint, lower costs and obtain financial incentives to offset efficiency improvements.

These savings are important because creating energy consumes energy—therefore, saving 1 unit of energy means not producing an average of 1.2–1.5 units of energy. These negawatts (negative watts) further reduce greenhouse gas emissions down the supply chain, from mining to transport.

For example, the coal needed to illuminate an incandescent light bulb contains 100 units of energy when it enters the power plant. Only two units of that energy eventually light the bulb. The remaining 98 units are lost along the way, primarily as heat. This waste contributes to environmental pollution and illustrates the value of saving energy.

Facilities managers have a powerful ally in their quest to save energy—they can tap into the people in their workplace to curb carbon emission. Encouraging people to turn off the lights or raise the temperature in an air conditioned space cuts the energy that the utility company uses to produce and distribute energy. People in the workplace can drive change by contributing negawatts. Individual contributions that may seem small can combine into large-scale energy savings.

Energy awareness and education is the key. Teaching building occupants about steps they can take will immediately reduce energy consumption in the office. Facilities managers can set up a system to show employees how much energy their building consumes, and give them ideas on how they can lower it. Asking workers to contribute ideas, launching competitions and making the exercise fun will motivate change. People like competition. Like playing a game of football without keeping score, few participants will stay engaged if they aren’t told how they are doing.

With this in mind, energy programs must include visible measurement. This feedback can be provided by capturing energy data and presenting it graphically through a Web portal, smartphone application or monitor display located where it can be easily viewed by employees. An example of visible metrics is the new LEED® Dynamic Plaque™ by the U.S. Green Building Council, which shows the current performance of a building. It is placed in a visible location where occupants can view energy and efficiency trends and provide feedback on their experience.

Smart energy management can improve quality of life by improving the comfort of the physical environment. For example, devices using electricity generate heat. Many items drawing electricity in an enclosed space can make it uncomfortably warm for the humans sharing the space, which may hurt worker performance and morale. Employing an energy management program addresses the environmental dimension of quality of life, thereby enabling greater worker efficiency and satisfaction.

Related Articles

Randy S. Michael, LEED AP, CEM, CEA, CEP, CDSM is Senior Director of Energy Management Services for Sodexo North America. Mr. Michael manages a team of energy professionals in projects to identify and implement energy conservation measures, procure energy and pursue cost-effective sustainability initiatives.