Research in the UK aims to develop an energy conscious workforce that goes green

You may be good about saving energy at home, wearing sweaters, turning down the thermostat and using CFL or LED light bulbs, but what about at the office? A new project announced on Tuesday by the Univ. of Nottingham aims to look into workers attitudes around energy conservation in the workplace and encouraging colleagues to collaborate on energy saving programs to reduce their organizations carbon footprint.

The question is whether an employee, who isn’t directly paying for electricity at the workplace, will bother be an efficient energy user. Because the environmental impact of electricity is invisible (the power plant is miles away) neither the environmental or economic impact of saving or wasting electricity is visible to the employee.

On the other hand, at home the economic impact is fairly obvious, arriving every month with the utility bill. The person who saves energy at home, because of lower utility bills, might not care about saving energy at work because they don’t see the utility bill.

Project lead, Dr Alexa Spence said: “Obviously at home there is a financial incentive to save energy as well as what’s termed the ‘warm glow’ environmental and moral imperative. We want to find out whether these incentives still apply when people reach their place of work and to look at which strategies are most successful in encouraging people to engage with their energy use.”

The research, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), will pair researchers with industry experts who are already conducting energy monitoring and energy efficiency consulting for companies. The researchers will have access to those company’s client base, to learn what workers are already doing to save energy, and see what would encourage workers to be more energy efficient.

A goal of the study is to develop a “toolkit” that will include guidance on developing workplace energy efficiency measures, as well as technical advice and design prototypes to aid in monitoring energy use. The toolkit will be tested at the companies to establish whether it is a useful/successful toolkit. Eventually the toolkit will be rolled out to other companies.

The overall goal of the study is to help people and organizations from the public, private and voluntary sectors to meet the twin challenges of rising energy costs and climate change.

Dr Spence said: “Energy is invisible and we often don’t think about it. When we go to work we don’t go there with the specific aim of using energy, we are far too busy thinking about doing our job. We are not the bill payer, so there is not much incentive for us to make an effort to be more energy efficient. The challenge is how to incentivize people to want to save energy.”

Dr Spence added: “Firstly we need to know what workers have the power to change themselves and which things, for example the lighting or the building’s heating, might be out of their control. We would like to promote organizational change by motivating the staff to ask constructive questions, for example, why do the lights need to be left on all night?”

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.
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About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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