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How to get everyone on board for energy savings: start at the top

Image of Brian Branting
Cowichan Valley School District energy manager Brian Branting shows reminder used to kick off a conservation campaign through spring break in the district's schools.

Message from Cowichan Valley schools superintendent was key to campaign

The Cowichan Valley School District has been promoting district-led holiday energy conservation campaigns since 2011, averaging 60 per cent participation from its 22 schools. However, for the 2014 winter holidays, they wanted to get even more schools on board.

Energy manager Brian Branting enlisted the help of superintendent Joe Rhodes, and came up with a plan:

  • Deliver campaign communications from the top-most level to the schools
  • Provide schools with materials to promote the campaign
  • Allow schools to implement the program as they see fit
  • Make personal contact from the district with each school, including follow-up visits.

Deliver the message from the top, but let schools do it their own way

The initial communication to schools came from the highest authority: the superintendent's office. "The materials we sent out to schools had a personal letter from Joe Rhodes, our superintendent," says Branting. "When the message comes from the boss, it's clear that it's a priority."

Also, for the first time since beginning their campaigns, the district provided schools with Turn It Off, Before You Take Off materials [PDF, 658 KB], encouraging staff and students to turn off and unplug electrical equipment before school let out over winter break. These included posters, checklists and "thank you" cards from appliances, left as reminders in strategic places.

However, Rhodes emphasizes that while the school district provided materials and guidelines, they didn't mandate how schools should implement Turn It Off, Before You Take Off.

"We give them the autonomy to do it in the best way for their school culture," says Rhodes. "It also depends on the size and type of school. For instance, a secondary school might have kids do energy audit checks, while an elementary school might engage the students to do a sweep of the school at the end of the day."

"The kids and custodians can be your best champions," Rhodes adds. "The custodians, who are the last people in classrooms at the end of the day, are often in the best position to unplug things. So some of the schools worked closely with the custodians to do the double-checking on the last couple of days before the holidays. That really helped."

Efforts resulted in a 25 per cent energy reduction over the holidays

Personal attention and visits from the energy manager were key to achieving success, says Rhodes. An initial visit to each school before the program began helped to set expectations and introduce the program.

"After winter break, I went back and visited them a second time and asked how it went," says Branting. "Knowing I was coming, and that I'd be following up, gave them more incentive to keep track of what they did."

As a result of Branting's and Rhodes' efforts, all 22 schools participated. Over the two-week break there was a 25 per cent savings in electrical consumption, compared to 15 per cent in 2013, saving the equivalent of approximately $25,000.

"When the winter campaign ended, Branting shared the overall district-wide results with each school, along with the individual results for their own school," says Rhodes, adding that providing timely and immediate feedback is important to keep staff and students engaged for future programs.

"People may not pay attention to energy conservation if they don't think it will be noticed," adds Branting. "Sharing the results of your campaign [PDF, 1.3 MB] with schools is really important. That way the participants know it's working and the superintendent is supportive because the money saved can be used for other educational priorities."

The next steps? Branting hopes to maintain the 100% participation rates for the Turn It Off, Before You Take Off campaign [PDF, 1.7 MB] over this year's spring break and the upcoming summer break. At the Cowichan Valley School District, they're keeping energy savings top of mind year round.