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How Alliance members can help support energy management

Image of a modern building on the UNBC campus surrounded by winter snow
The University of Northern B.C. at Prince George, known as Canada's Green University, has produced significant electricity use savings and GHG reductions.

Lessons and insights from a BC Hydro virtual site tour for energy managers

You know you've hit the tipping point when the culture around saving energy becomes bigger than the person tasked with leading the charge in energy management.

"Ideally, you reach the point where things start to happen without your involvement," says Christine Obee, sustainability engagement strategist for Vancouver's Prism Engineering. "You don't want to be alone on an island."

Getting to that point – by building a dynamic energy management culture – was the topic of a BC Hydro virtual site tour for energy managers across B.C. this fall. It spawned spirited discussions on what it takes to get that culture cooking, and there was some advice for Alliance members in the mix.

Here are five highlights from that session and follow-up interviews with those who attended.

1. Consultants need to help push for GHG savings, too

It's a brave new world in which BC Hydro's mission isn't all about pushing for electricity savings. As the BC Government's CleanBC programs push for GHG emission reductions, fuel switching to electricity is now very much in play.

And that means that Alliance members should be ready to introduce creative solutions and technologies when they work with customers with ambitious GHG saving targets.

Bill MacKinnon is senior energy manager for BC Housing, the Crown corporation that develops, manages and administers subsidized housing in the province, to the tune of hundreds of housing projects each year. MacKinnon says BC Housing's sustainability goals – which centre around CleanBC-mandated GHG reductions – encourage contractors to swing for the fences.

"Just getting a project done, with minimal energy savings, is not what we want," says MacKinnon. "We are prepared to go back to the drawing board – sometimes meeting with consultants as well as project managers – to say, 'We're here to support digging deeper. What other incentives can be used on this project, and what technologies can be considered?'"

MacKinnon stresses that the driving factor for many upgrades in B.C. today is GHG reductions. He says that while project costs can sometimes force BC Housing to walk away from larger GHG reductions, it's important to still explore more ambitious options.

"According to our standards, every project now is expected to hire a consultant to identify options that will achieve savings greater than 50% GHG reduction," he says. "That doesn't always get done, but we're doing some pretty cutting edge stuff on some projects, doing fuel switching and even building to a Passive House level in some cases. But most of the time, we get part of the way there."

2. Get buy-in from everyone, from execs to technicians to facilities personnel

Energy managers go nowhere without support from executives, but any potential for big gains can evaporate when energy management culture isn't spread (and celebrated) throughout an organization.

Rob Carreiro of Colliers International, which manages more than 60 million square feet of commercial property across Canada, is a former building operator who was troubled by the fact that the people running the company's buildings had no prominent role in reducing energy use. To remedy that, he worked with Colliers to launch a Building Operator Challenge that promoted engagement, discussion, and project ideas around energy management. The initiative included energy management training for managers, with funding help from BC Hydro's Energy Wise Network.

The result? Over the 12 months of the challenge, Colliers' C02 emissions avoidance numbers in B.C. Lower Mainland buildings matched those of the three previous years combined. Building operators felt valued, engagement increased, and the company's sustainability culture grew.

3. Use data analysis to check progress and tweak direction

Even the best laid plans for energy management require some fine-tuning. Or an overhaul.

The recommendation is to use detailed analysis of energy use as a regular check-in on your goals, and to not forget to get feedback from employees. Efficiency initiatives that lead to chilly meeting rooms or an ill-timed printer shutdown aren't worth the savings.

Reporting on energy management also helps build or maintain the trust of executives, including those who may be questioning the payback on energy efficiency initiatives.

"It's part of building trust with the executive and all stakeholders," says University of Northern BC facilities manager David Claus. "They need to realize that what you're doing isn't all smoke and mirrors. You need to come back with real proof, real answers."

Sometimes, that analysis can happen in real-time. Property management and real estate company QuadReal is starting to use a variety of sensors for floor-by-floor, room-by-room tracking of HVAC, lighting and other systems in its office buildings, and making adjustments on the fly.

4. Link energy savings targets to compensation

It's amazing what happens when a company prioritizes energy management and sustainability enough to tie specific metrics to compensation programs for managers and executives.

QuadReal has set an 80% carbon use reduction target for its Canadian real estate portfolio by 2050, and integrates its steps to that lofty goal in manager compensation. QuadReal aims to score in the top quartile of the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB), which assesses a company's commitment, management, and performance related to sustainability.

Delivering on CO2 emissions reduction and other sustainability goals is increasingly important as investors, including pension funds, evaluate companies' environmental, social and governance metrics.

A 2019 Mercer study on ESG metrics in incentive plans shows that ESG metrics are still a greater priority in European nations than they are in Canada and the U.S. But the same study showed that of those companies embracing ESG in North America, environmental metrics were at the top of the list of the three ESG components.

5. Link sustainability success to the company's brand

When a company wears its green credentials on its sleeve, it has a reputation to live up to. Making commitments public, and showcasing sustainability efforts as part of a brand, puts pressure on everyone in the organization to take part.

The University of Northern B.C. did that by calling itself "Canada's Green University", and it received international acclaim for its bioenergy plant that uses wood waste to generate heat for campus buildings, just one of its energy management initiatives. All along, it got consistent pressure from students to live up to its "Green University" brand.

Real estate and property management company QuadReal is backed by Canadian pension funds, and often gets questions from fund managers – and even from individual pensioners – about their sustainability practices. "We have to answer to our pensioners, who have high expectations and standards," says Nisha Agrawal, who as QuadReal's sustainability analyst is often tasked with answering those questions.

Agrawal says sustainability also matters to many tenants, pointing to a QuadReal-commissioned analysis of 10 years of data that found that green-certified buildings produced a slight rental premium. "That reinforced that what we were doing mattered to tenants," says Agrawal.