Sparking Champions of Energy Efficiency at Joie de Vivre

EDF Climate Corps fellow | October 18, 2011

By Avra Winograd-Hutner, 2011 EDF Climate Corps fellow at Joie de Vivre, MBA Candidate at Stanford Graduate School of Business

On my first day at Joie de Vivre, I was taken down to the basement of the Galleria Park Hotel, whisked past doors with “Staff Only” signs, and led into a windowless office to meet with the head housekeeper.  A few minutes into our conversation I was already blown away by her understanding of energy efficiency and commitment to incorporate sustainability into every decision. From knowledge of light bulbs to ordering uniforms made of organic bamboo, she has deeply embraced the hotel’s commitment to green practices.  The amazing part is that she believes she can make smart environmental choices at very little cost.  The Galleria Park is one of Joie de Vivre’s boutique hotels that has met the rigorous requirements to become a San Francisco Green Certified business.   The head housekeeper is just one member of a hotel management team that continually makes decisions to improve energy efficiency, reduce waste and minimize environmental impact.

Why isn’t everyone like that?

I thought a lot about that over the weeks following the meeting. If it’s easy to make positive changes that don’t cost more, why isn’t everyone doing it? This nagging and often perplexing question most frequently arises around the issue of energy efficiency. Resulting from my work as an EDF Climate Corps fellow, I’ve found myself wanting to approach hotel staff and suggest they change light bulbs and save money.  It’s hard for me to imagine that managers know cost-saving options exist, and yet still conduct business as usual.  So what’s going on?  Well, according to a recent survey of CEOs by Johnson Controls, here are the top reasons that corporations aren’t making investments in energy efficiency:

  • 30%  – Lack of funding
  • 19% – Insufficient ROI
  • 12% – Uncertainty Regarding Savings and Performance
  • 9% – Lack of Awareness
  • 9% – Lack of technical expertise to evaluate/execute projects[i]

Despite these findings, I keep coming back to what I saw this summer.   Financial constraints can limit certain types of investments, but from what I learned, education is lacking and increasing access to information is the key to changing habits.  It’s hard to measure costs and true returns on investments if you don’t have access to a full array of options. And education isn’t just for managers and isn’t about posting signs around the workplace to remind people about recycling and turning out lights.  Education means providing substantive information to foster and develop true champions for energy efficiency and environmental practices.  Education means helping employees internalize their actions.  In my mind, education means creating curious energy efficiency monsters constantly seeking information and initiating change.  Easier said than done

How much does one champion matter?

The answer to that question is: a lot. At Joie de Vivre, I’ve been impressed by how much of a difference a few dedicated employees have made at individual hotels and on the organization as a whole.  Of Joie de Vivre’s 30 hotels, 12 are green certificated and many others are working to get there.  Dedicated corporate employees and hotel management and staff have been crucial in achieving these results, and   I’ve found that the hotels lagging in these efforts often just don’t have top managers driving sustainability efforts.

So how do we inspire these educated, energy efficiency champions everywhere we go? What sparked the current champions to lead the charge, and how can we replicate that at hotels and other businesses across the country?

EDF Climate Corps places specially-trained MBA and MPA students in companies, cities and universities to develop practical, actionable energy efficiency plans. Sign up to receive emails about EDF Climate Corps, including regular blog posts by our fellows. You can also visit our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter to get regular updates about this project.