For a company in the home improvement business, and especially one with a stated focus on knowledgeable and up-to-date customer service, it’s important to “lead by example,” says Lesley Sovran, senior manager, Field Support and Energy Solutions for Home Depot Canada. In her view, this includes implementing an effective energy management strategy, and Home Depot was recently recognized for notable achievements in this area.
“We focus on empowering our customers through our associate know-how and our variety of products in stores and online,” she says. “As an organization, we’re governed by a set of values, and doing the right thing is one of those. Energy efficiency fits in perfectly with that.”
Sovran joined Home Depot as part of the Save on Energy program, an initiative led by the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), the organization that manages Ontario’s power system. The program encourages companies to engage a full-time energy manager, whose mandate includes advancing energy efficiency and identifying and implementing energy conservation projects.
“It's much easier to do things the same way time and time again, but we were able to take a leap and do things differently,” says Sovran. “There were bumps in the road and hard work, but I’m proud of the foundation we’ve laid and of our results. Last year, we saved enough energy to power 13 Home Depot stores for a year.”
That impact is impressive, says Derek Roldan, IESO’s marketing advisor. “Home Depot, a company with so many different locations, saw its stores improve their energy efficiency across the board.”
For its achievements, the Home Depot energy management team was recently recognized with an IESO Energy Management Leadership Award, and Roldan believes much of the success was driven by the energy manager’s passion and ability to inspire others.
“With a champion dedicated to improving energy performance, you can get the ball rolling and this excitement often becomes contagious,” he says. “We’ve seen many examples where everyone, from the leadership to employees, is getting engaged. People are thinking about energy differently and contribute their own ideas. That’s when we really see an impact on the bottom line.”
Sovran, who is part of the building services and energy solutions team, says taking a holistic approach to energy management has led to a range of results, including some that were anticipated and others that came as unexpected benefits.
“[Energy management] is embedded in every part of what we do. With each initiative, with each contract we negotiate, we think about impacts. That’s really powerful because our team manages all of the non-merchandising assets of the buildings, everything from the HVAC system, the roof and the floor, to the parking lot. We have a lot of control over how the buildings are operated and how efficient they are.”
Sovran says paying close attention to and fine tuning each store location’s building automation system, which controls “all major equipment, such as rooftop units, unit heaters, air curtains and lighting” helped to optimize energy efficiency.
Recent lighting upgrades to LEDs not only led to energy savings but also made merchandise and retail space look even better, she adds.
In 2017, Home Depot’s energy conservation team set a new course for HVAC capital projects, says Sovran. “When we replaced the heating and cooling equipment in stores, we focused on optimizing the equipment, and completing detailed assessments to ensure that every space was equipped with the right capacity to deliver better occupant comfort as well as energy savings."
This was a departure from Home Depot’s prior practice of bringing in replacement equipment of the same size, says Sovran. “Through our HVAC optimization project, we were able to achieve great results, obtain great incentives and ultimately changed the approach to how we tackle HVAC capital projects going forward.”
Sovran sees a lot of potential in innovation – in doing things differently and trying new approaches. “I really enjoy the problem solving aspect of my work. One of my biggest motivating factors is having that strong environmental impact, but what makes this so wonderful is that there's also such a compelling business case behind it.”
The team also took a close look at “stores that weren’t delivering savings,” says Sovran. “We had a lot of data and information at our disposal. Data can be powerful, but it's only as powerful as you make it. We had many data points on our stores that weren't being utilized as well as they could have been.”
In addition to building upgrades and systems optimization, Home Depot’s energy management strategy focused on employee engagement and behavioural change, says Sovran. “We’ve been looking to engage our associates so they can feel proud about working for an organization that cares about energy conservation.”
The Power Project, an ongoing program launched in 2017, provides stores with score cards for tracking and evaluating their building's performance. Sovran says the goal was to create healthy competition between stores, empower Home Depot associates with information about their energy usage and encourage them to ask fundamental questions about how their consumption compared to similar-sized stores.
“We started getting a lot of emails and calls from stores that were wondering why their footprint was bigger than that of another store down the road,” she recalls. “We encouraged stores to set up conservation teams and become engaged in energy conservation efforts.”
Sovran says a large number of Home Depot stores voluntarily created energy conservation teams who “encourage their fellow associates to get on board with easy changes that not only make the buildings more efficient but also more comfortable,” she explains. “The contest’s prize is a store's ‘fun fund.’”
Home Depot’s fun funds are typically used to pay for lunches or dinners for all associates. Sovran believes that adding this fun dimension helps to create community and spread the message to other stores as well.
Sovran says being able to complete projects and showcase results has increased awareness and buy-in throughout the company. “Seeing the amount of buy-in that our team has been able to drive, seeing our senior leadership engaged and champion these programs is amazing,” she says. “The award helped to reinforce that we're on the right track and that all the efforts of trying to innovate and change the way we're doing things are paying off.
“Showing that there are benefits not just from a financial perspective but also from an environmental perspective, from an associate and a customer perspective helps us bring all these components together,” says Sovran. “Ultimately, we're trying to make our stores the best place possible to work and to shop.”
To achieve a noticeable impact from an energy management strategy requires engagement on all levels of a company, says Lesley Sovran, senior manager, Field Support and Energy Solutions for Home Depot Canada. “No one operates in a silo, and everyone's really busy trying to hit the finish line.”
Sovran says that making everyone at Home Depot aware of goals and initiatives opened doors for collaboration, and inviting discussions concerning projects and how they may impact others helped to foster a team effort and strong results. “Showcasing initiatives can be so powerful in terms of integrating a strategy into company culture."
“We’ve really made an effort to entwine our initiatives with Home Depot’s values,” Sovran says. “This has allowed us to have an impact on associates, customers and on our future outlook, for example more predictability in terms of costs.”
She adds, “Taking time to think about our achievements and reflect on what went well and what we could improve the next time, that’s really powerful. We also found that celebrating our successes can be very motivating.”