Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

People power key to efficiency

Hamilton-based locomotive engineer tina Flack, one of the drivers involved in KiwiRail's fuel -saving programme. Photo / Brendon O'Hagan
Hamilton-based locomotive engineer tina Flack, one of the drivers involved in KiwiRail's fuel -saving programme. Photo / Brendon O'Hagan

Six steps to staff engagement

1: Set up a team.
2: Research attitudes and behaviour.
3: Identify actions and timelines.
4: Implement your plan.
5: Evaluate and review.
6: Maintain.


Plugging staff in to energy savings can power up the long term sustainability of energy efficiency programmes.

Energy experts say up to half the energy savings come from staff behaviour alone.

Helping businesses get their workforce on board with energy saving is behind a new toolkit from the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA)

It gives businesses - everyone from companies with energy bills running into the millions down to smaller firms - a set of templates, resources and information to help implement their own tailored staff engagement programme.

"Businesses often think that the best way to energy efficiency is investing in energy efficient plant and equipment but really people are just as important because people use the equipment, control the environment, see things happening that should be happening or not happening as well as they can be," says EECA's business account director Paul Bull.

"Motivating them or making them aware of the opportunity to improve the efficiency or manage the energy is just as important as having efficient plant and equipment."
Bull likens it to a sports team.

"The staff awareness programme is trying to turn everyone into a team so they're not just reliant on the half back and the number 10 to run the game."

Getting staff on track with energy management has already proven a winner for KiwiRail.
Its fuel saving initiative cut 4 million litres of diesel off its energy bill in the first year of the programme, avoiding 10,800 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

KiwiRail also bagged the "Large Energy User Initiative of the Year" category at the Deloitte Energy Excellence Awards last month for its Locomotive Fuel Conservation project.

KiwiRail's national manager - service delivery, Soren Low says the business had "had a few cracks" at making fuel savings over the years but because a lot of it related back to driver behaviour, once the focus was off the old habits crept back in.

Low says the key was creating a "new normal" backed by a driver advisory system (DAS) that helped change driving styles in order to save fuel.

Pre-loaded with route information, including speeds, gradients and curves, the DAS is able to calculate options for driving at the optimal speed , gliding down hills and braking efficiently while still running the train to timetable.

The workforce of experienced train drivers were a tough audience to convince that the new technology would bring benefits without undermining their autonomy.

Crucial to the project's success was getting key drivers on board with a trial, says Low.
Impressed with the results it was these people who sold it to their workmates.

"What we learnt very early on is this is more of a change project than it is a technology project," he says.

"You need to involve people who can make that difference every day.

"The people at the front-line who you are expecting to be deploying whatever the energy initiative is, even if it is turning off the lights at the end of the day.

"Engaging the union early and working with them to address any issues really helped us get this over the line with our people."

Jonathan Pooch, managing director of energy management consultancy DETA consulting, says businesses can't just focus on the technical elements of energy saving and expect to get long-term gains.

"In our experience probably half of the potential saving come from crunchy technical projects that the engineers love and the other half would come from staff behaviour or how you actually use the energy," says Pooch.

"That is a huge amount in its own right through communication, awareness of key parameters and the general culture of the organisation."

Pooch, who has worked alongside some of New Zealand's biggest energy users, says he strongly advocates for organisations to link energy efficiency with existing company programmes.

"Every organisation will engage with staff successfully - or unsuccessfully - but they'll be engaging on all sorts of things like health and safety, process improvement, all those normal things so we just make energy one of the strands to that topic of conversation as much as possible."

In his experience successful staff engagement needs to tone down the technical language, link in data and feedback and provide a two-way communication channel.

In fact, it's the two-way communication that people often under-estimate, he says, but it provides a good opportunity for collaboration and to even pass on energy efficiency tips for the home.

Energy efficient LED lighting installed in the workplace could lead to staff getting the information needed to make the switch at home, he says.

"Energy projects are never just about energy," says Pooch.

"Even your most simple LED lighting project is about operator environment; it's about maintenance savings or ease of maintenance; it's taking glass out of the process area so you've got less product risk."

One of the hurdles most organisations face with getting traction on energy efficiency is that it is often assigned to one person or a small team, says EECA's Bull.

"They often do a really good job at implementing but it is challenging to get it embedded into the culture of the organisation.

"Often these people are operational or engineering focused and trying to do the staff engagement across areas that are outside their influence is challenging for them.

"This staff engagement toolkit gives them the ability to get buy-in from senior management by giving them a plan but also from other experts in the business that can help them roll the plan out to maximise the benefits of energy management and energy efficiency across the organisation."

At KiwiRail Low says there has been a noticeable improvement across the board with staff engagement.

People are now saying they are more likely to speak up when they have good ideas because they can see things will happen as a result, he says.

"While this is predominately a fuel related thing I'd like to think some of those spinoffs are happening elsewhere."

The fuel efficiency programme is just the beginning for the company, he says.
"We're thinking: how can we leverage off this to make tomorrow better."

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