Crazy for Savings: The Value of Energy-Obsessed Employees

By Graham Brown, 2010 EDF Climate Corps Fellow at The JBG Companies, MBA / MS candidate at Erb Institute, University of Michigan, Member of Net Impact

 

During my eight weeks as an EDF Climate Corps fellow at The JBG Companies, I've become obsessed with energy efficiency savings.

One example: Working late a few days ago, I stayed until everyone else had left the office. Then, standing precariously on the seat of my rolling chair, I pried open the back panel of an "EXIT" sign outside my cubicle just to make sure it was lit with LEDs and not incandescent bulbs.  Fortunately, the former was true (don't worry, I replaced the panel). More significantly, I hadn't even been asked to evaluate efficiency in the office. This was, for all intents and purposes, an illicit, off-the-books energy hunt.  I had gone rogue.

My official task this summer is to help The JBG Companies, one of the largest real estate investment and development firms in the DC metro area, find cost-effective ways to maximize the energy performance of its new developments.  Simultaneously, I have been helping JBG evaluate the role that energy should play in its longer-term strategy.

The experience has underscored the fact that any company with real estate – tenant, owner, developer – should have staff responsible for connecting the dots between energy use, operating costs and potential savings. In other words, if you don't have an energy officer, you're probably wasting energy…and money.  An energy officer would add value in the following key areas of any company.

1. Staying current:

Energy policies, technologies, and incentive and rebate programs change constantly (for federal government contractors in particular, energy policy is changing dramatically).  In my first weeks at JBG, I found a property tax incentive that will save the company as much as $175,000 over five years. No one had applied for it, because the program was barely a month old.  The lesson: Every company needs someone keeping a constant watch on trends in energy technologies, policies and financing opportunities.

2. Communicating across the firm:

Based on my conversations here at JBG, building engineers are often (understandably) more concerned about uptime and maintenance than lifetime costs, while financial analysts aren't necessarily conversant with energy savings from, say, photocells or variable-frequency drives. An energy officer can help bridge those gaps and make sure that valuable projects don't get lost through miscommunication.

3. Incorporating energy efficiency into the planning process:

On one of JBG's current development projects for a third-party client, design choices could either increase or decrease the annual energy bill for the building's data center alone by as much as $4 million. But the initial lease terms, which determine the way the design team prioritizes energy efficiency against other considerations, provide more guidance regarding security and parking capacity than energy efficiency.  Energy-efficient design might increase the up-front cost, but potential savings over ten years could approach $45 million – enough, I'd say, to justify having an energy staffer reviewing lease terms early in the process.

4. Implementing, implementing, implementing:

Analysis without implementation may be fine in academia but won't help businesses realize energy savings – which is why EDF follows up with each of the Climate Corps participating host companies to track implementation of fellows' recommendations.  In addition to analysis, companies need someone who will actually identify vendors, solicit bids and make sure that theoretical savings become real cash flow.

If this summer has taught me one thing, it is that one slightly obsessed energy analyst can identify substantial energy savings and be of even greater strategic value to a company. So if you're a corporate executive looking to reduce your costs, find someone who gets that manic gleam in his or her eye whenever anyone mentions energy efficiency.  You'd be crazy not to.

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