Lunch & learns and one-to-one interaction get people motivated

Image of Marc Staats
Metrotowers property coordinator Marc Staats.

A simple, personal style goes a long way

To engage their Metrotower Office Complex tenants in energy conservation, Ivanhoé Cambridge in Burnaby has a great strategy: keep it simple and keep it personal.

Oh, and find a champion who is committed to the cause.

Metrotowers' property coordinator Marc Staats has it covered: along with a calendar of energy-saving initiatives [PDF, 1.7 MB], he combines personal visits with engaging lunch & learns to get the message out. Thanks to these personal visits and tenant education, the number of space heaters was reduced by 65% from 2014 to 2015, without reducing tenant comfort.

HVAC 101: Messaging that's relevant and easy to understand

Ivanhoé Cambridge has hosted a number of lunch & learns for their tenants, but an HVAC 101 lunch & learn gave them a chance to take a daunting subject and make it easy to grasp.

"HVAC is an industrial term many people aren't familiar with," says Staats. "I wanted to give tenants a perspective on how buildings work and break down a lot of misconceptions about heat and air conditioning."

In doing so, tenants [PDF, 1.8 MB] begin understanding how their actions make a difference.

"Having them understand the capability of the system really helps us to sell them on why they should get rid of their space heater or why they should close their blinds," explains Staats. "It's really just teaching them basic heating and cooling concepts."

Staats adds that tenants are often surprised by what affects HVAC operations. "When changes are made to the tenant space and building staff isn't informed, it can severely impact both how the building operates and people's comfort," he says. "A new tenant might put in beautiful pot lights with 90 watt halogen bulbs, but the heat from those bulbs can severely impact the system. Something as simple as changing furniture or cubicle walls can impact air flow. Everything is interconnected."

A key is to resist targeting energy reduction as a whole subject, says Jennifer Davis, principal at TurnLeaf Consulting. "You target specific behaviours, and one behaviour at a time," she says. "The HVAC 101 lunch & learn was an opportunity to piece together all of these specific hot-cold behaviours and provide an educational perspective on what can be done and what can't be done."

Personal visits are tailored to the tenants

Davis emphasizes the importance of individual follow-up.

"Marc follows up independently with tenants," says Davis. "When we were doing space heater audits last winter, he took it upon himself to personally meet with every tenant who had space heater issues."

"We've been doing the space heater audit now for three years, and we've seen a significant decrease year over year," says Staats. "With offices, there is a considerable amount of turnover for staff, and it's very easy for a new employee just to go and buy a space heater without thinking about it. We try to work with them to find a better solution."

"I think one of the key highlights is that our initiatives are tailored to the tenant [PDF, 1.5 MB], whether they're an office of 100 or an office of four," he adds. "They're all customizable, which means everyone can participate. There are no pre-set initiatives they have to fit into."

Keeping actions simple and easy is also key. "Whether it's the blind-closing challenge or turning monitors off, there are things that are relatively easy for the employees to do – things that take very little effort," Staats says. "You don't want to overcomplicate things and make it difficult, because you're less likely to have participation when people have to do a lot."

Taking time to engage the largest companies – and the newest tenants

"Metrotowers has several large tenancies that take up three to five floors," says Davis. "They often have their own sustainability initiatives in place, but Marc puts in the time to actively engage them, and makes sure they are involved.

"He also leads his own office in all of these initiatives so that they are modeling the desired behaviours and walking the talk."

Staats says that with considerable turnover in office buildings, habits and participation levels change. "As an example, we have a very proactive recycling program for the property, but there's always room for improvement," he says. "And it's really about teaching tenants the foundation concepts. We're not out there preaching. We're out there educating."