Energy manager sparks teamwork at Burnaby schools

Over the past 10 years, the Burnaby School District has reduced its energy consumption by almost 5.2 GWh/yr (gigawatt hours per year). That means the district is now saving enough energy to power more than 450 houses in B.C. per year.

What's their secret? Teamwork — and a dedicated, encouraging team leader.

Matt Foley: energy manager, team builder

These days, energy managers need to know more than just the technical side of energy efficiency. They need to be savvy about people as well.

In Burnaby, all 57 school district buildings (49 schools and eight resource buildings) will have completed energy efficient lighting upgrades by March, 2013, in addition to numerous other improvements. Overseeing the work has been Matt Foley, the district's energy manager.

Of course, Foley hasn't acted alone. The team that has worked to make the Burnaby School District energy efficient includes the Burnaby School Board, district teachers and maintenance staff, and an energy specialist.

Even better, the multi-generational team has included students, in particular the Burnaby Youth Sustainability Network (BYSN), a student-driven organization that promotes environmental stewardship in schools throughout the district.

"Working in a district with 5,000 employees and 25,000 students, you can't be successful having one person lead the change," says Greg Frank, the district's secretary treasurer. "You have to have a team, and the team has to be extensive throughout the organization,"

Frank says Foley's leadership has been instrumental in making things happen and inspiring change.

In a letter of thanks, one student involved with the BYSN wrote: "When we youth are in need of something, [Mr. Foley] is always there to hear us out and help us — and his actions speak louder than words.

"Last year, many students wanted to reduce single-use plastic bottle waste at our school, and Mr. Foley helped us to install high tech water refill stations in every school in Burnaby, saving 200,000 bottles in our first four months."

"The students bring drive and energy and focus that challenges the rest of us to keep up with them," says Frank. "They are fabulous ambassadors for ensuring that we're making improvements in these areas."

Energy efficiency delivers value to schools

Burnaby is the fourth largest school district in B.C. and was one of the first to join BC Hydro's Commercial Energy Manager Program. Foley says as soon as they learned about the program the district wanted to give it a try.

"In addition to the funding for the energy manager position, the program provides access to many other resources, like rebates, training, and a phenomenal network for collaboration with energy manager teams at other school districts," he says. "And we felt it was the perfect opportunity to model our school district on some of the approaches [BC Hydro] brought forward.".

Greg Frank agrees, saying the inspiration for being energy efficient is three-fold:

  • To reap the financial benefits of becoming more sustainable and energy efficient
  • To improve the work environment and increase comfort levels for staff and students
  • As an educational institution that reaches many people, to help model sustainability.

But they had their work cut out for them. Many of the buildings in the district are 60 to 80 years old, and much of the equipment was 1930's to 1960's vintage. Nothing had been updated.

Foley, who has been working with electrical and mechanical systems for the past 30 years, was prepared for the task. "Trying to make things run efficiently has always been my thing," he says.

Continuous improvement

Greg Frank says that one of Foley's biggest strengths is a focus on continuous improvement. "Matt combines technical expertise with a desire to both achieve targets and ensure comfort for all staff is continually improving," he says. "He also has a way about him that is calm, positive, and allows others within the district to buy into his vision."

The letter from a student leader sums it up. "Personally he has taught me through BYSN to close that intergenerational gap between students and adult supporters and that's why I'm proud to be from Burnaby — we value working as a team."