Having the boss in your corner can certainly make life easier – especially when it comes to energy efficiency. If you’re the energy champion of your organization, having executive support can make the difference between success and failure when it comes to energy projects.
That means it’s crucial to understand how best to pique the interest of your business’s leadership teams – and improving energy efficiency alone probably won’t be a convincing enough argument.
"It's always going to be on the energy manager to figure out what the CEO cares about and then change their approach based on that," says Kady Cowan, an expert at the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), who helps organizations become more energy efficient.
Your company’s leaders don’t just control the purse strings, but also which projects get resource priority and attention, so getting support from the top down is key.
Implementing energy management over the long term therefore requires support that goes beyond a budget allocation. "There are so many reasons why energy efficiency projects can become stalled or derailed," says Bryan Flannigan, an energy consultant with 25 years of experience helping organizations implement efficiency projects.
"If people in an organization want to cross their arms to avoid having the project affect them, they'll be able to use the bureaucracy to stall and delay progress. But if the executive team and organizational structure from the top down is fully supportive, then people are appropriately compelled by the company to be onside and to support the initiative as a corporate priority."
"At the end of the day, your objective should be to find the ways that energy management activities align with other initiatives in the longer term strategy to get the full weight of the company behind you,” Flannigan says.
But how do you figure out what those priorities are in the first place?
It's true that getting a meeting with the CEO or other high-up leadership on the books isn't always achievable. However, that doesn't mean you're limited in uncovering what they care about.
The key, Cowan says, is to keep your head up, and network.
She recommends paying attention to the resources already available to you, from town halls with executives, to internal newsletters and even minutes from leadership or board meetings. Consider even looking to media coverage of your organization to gain more insight into what your leadership talks about to the public.
But when it comes down to gaining insight into real business objectives, you'll have to talk to as many people as possible. Use meetings and conversations up the chain of command to find out how your executives' decision-making processes function, what their criteria are, and the budget planning cycles, Flannigan says.
"Ultimately you have to work through the chain of command and ask the questions around how the business case should be distilled and presented," he says. "How are budget asks made, how are the budget review cycles done, what are the contents of the business plan that might relate to the measures being put forward?"
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People you meet along the way will have historic insight that can help, Cowan adds. "Piggyback on things that are already successful.”
She gives the example of infection prevention and control departments in health care. "When I was first starting out in energy management in health care, that was the group that I talked to first, even though they had nothing to do with what I was doing."
What that department did have was more buy-in from executive leadership and more freedom to innovate. By learning how that group sold through ideas and leaning on concrete examples of initiatives that already had institutional support, Cowan could present her own business cases for energy efficiency more effectively.
"Once you know more about your organization's strategic objectives, it's time to move from defensive to offensive in how you sell the benefits of energy management," Flannigan says.
"You'll get more traction if you can go beyond simple cost savings – it's all about tying whatever measures you're proposing to other corporate initiatives, especially if those initiatives are creating meaningful benefit streams that are outside of energy."
Present measures as win-win as they relate to other business objectives, Flannigan recommends. "If you are working in a hotel, it could have to do with increasing occupancy by enhancing the customer experience," he says. "If some of your retrofit measures can be shown to be directly related to occupant satisfaction, such as a control system or mobile app that allows them to manage lighting or cooling in their suite, then making those connections more explicit is a great way to get attention."
"Most importantly, though, you have to speak the right language to get executive leadership to take notice," he says. Find out the metrics that the relevant executive uses most and see how you can fit energy into that. This is again where networking and initiating conversations up the chain of command come into play.
"If you're doing a simple payback calculation, which is often used as an initial metric, nobody in the C-Suite is really even able to make decisions on that basis," Flannigan says. "You have to appreciate that they will be concerned with life-safety and regulatory issues, the availability of capital, and whether the rate of return for an investment is competitive relative to other potential investments."
Flannigan also urges energy managers to quantify potential results as much as possible, and in terms that are relevant to leadership. In the hotel example, that could mean researching similar companies that saw occupancy skyrocket after implementing measures similar to what you're proposing.
"Ultimately, that's what the decision-makers are going to be most impressed with in terms of moving forward and committing dollars."