A Holistic Approach to Energy Management

Adapted from a Prism Engineering presentation given at the Fall 2010 College and University Administrators Conference held at Langara College.

Robert Greenwald, President of Prism Engineering
Sarah Smith, Social Marketing Program Coordinator at Prism Engineering

Successful energy management goes beyond simply knowing which equipment to buy and how to properly set controls. Effectively managing the energy performance of advanced education facilities requires a holistic approach. This method takes a broader perspective and looks at the whole energy management picture, including the organizational, technical and behavioural aspects. It also requires a broad organization-wide commitment to continuously looking for ways to improve. This article outlines eight key areas critical to successful energy management, using examples and case studies from Langara's energy management program.


1. Getting Commitment

Incorporating energy management practices into any organization requires senior level management support and commitment. Without it, saving energy will not be seen as a priority and any program goals, targets, plans and initiatives will lack the necessary support to see them succeed. Securing commitment from senior executives in the beginning of the process will help ensure the success of all energy management initiatives, from retrofit project financing to staff engagement programs.

Secure senior management commitment by demonstrating how energy management ties in to your organization's business strategy. Energy management offers quantifiable cost savings and provides opportunities to engage staff, students, and faculty. It can also position the organization as a progressive industry leader making a positive difference in the local community, and globally, through its commitment to environmental sustainability.

2. The Importance of a Plan

An energy management plan formalizes the organization's commitment to energy management and provides a means of communicating this commitment to staff, students, faculty and community stakeholders. A plan establishes a framework for identifying energy efficiency opportunities and a benchmark for monitoring future performance. It also clearly lays out energy management roles and responsibilities.

An effective plan provides information on energy-use, sets goals and targets, outlines energy saving opportunities and includes financial analysis of proposed actions. As well, the plan should include strategies for engaging and communicating with staff and students and provide opportunities for staff training. An effective plan will also outline how energy use will be monitored and reported.

3. Integrate Energy Management into the Organization

Ideally, energy management should be fully integrated into all aspects of the organization. Begin by developing an understanding of your organization's current operational management systems and identifying which policies relate to energy management. Understand how energy management fits into the organization's overall corporate strategy and how best to connect energy management with other campus activities. Explore opportunities to link energy management practices with existing courses and programs, or look to develop new classes that provide students with hands-on learning experiences.


4. Energy Projects

As all energy management programs invariably include technical aspects, it is important to plan strategically by identifying technical opportunities and priorities. Be ready to take advantage of new funding sources that may become available by having a "shovel ready" list of projects.

Langara College

Start by developing an understanding of your organization's current situation and energy usage. Look at the cost structure of your bills. Compare your energy use to that of similar organizations in the education sector and benchmark the performance of your buildings. Identify when and where you use energy. Once you have collected this information, you will be better able to identify savings opportunities by eliminating waste, maximizing efficiency and optimizing your energy supply. To eliminate waste, consider optimizing set points for heating and cooling, installing occupancy sensors for lighting and HVAC systems, or optimizing schedules to reflect building occupancy patterns. Next, look for opportunities to improve the efficiency of your building's systems. Purchase Energy Star rated equipment, premium efficiency motors or condensing boilers and ensure filters are always properly maintained.

The next step in identifying energy saving opportunities is to optimize your supply. This means considering alternative energy options, such as geo-exchange, heat recovery and solar opportunities. Langara College recently designed and built a new library building, which features several of these energy alternatives. The building is designed to be 71% more energy-efficient than the baseline established in Canada's National Energy Code for buildings. It features several innovative ways of saving energy in new building projects. For example, the library is naturally ventilated - five wind towers pull air upward through the building and the undulating concrete roof boosts the pulling power by increasing wind velocity. Remotely-controlled windows open to bring air into the building. A geo-exchange system and water source heat pumps cool and heat the interior. Waste heat is captured from exhaust air and the building's exposed cast-in-place concrete and high-performance glass further aid in energy transfer and storage.

5. Financial

When making the financial case for a retrofit or new building project, it is important to look beyond annual savings and consider the long term value of the project. At Langara College for an example, the energy management savings from a 2001 retrofit have been $50,000 per year. However, it sounds more impressive to say that the cost avoidance has been over $700,000 since 2001. The long term savings figures will help build a better business case for a project.


Technology is a vital part of energy management. Ultimately, however, it is people who control, use and save energy. Providing effective training for key staff and finding ways to fully engage all staff, students and faculty members in energy conservation programs is critical to successful energy management.

6. Training

An effective way to improve energy efficiency in buildings, is to provide training for those in the organization who work directly with the buildings' energy systems. Training should provide building operations personnel with the skills and knowledge to properly manage and maintain equipment, to identify energy savings opportunities, and to implement operational changes. As well as providing them with enhanced knowledge and critical tools, by building up competencies in your staff, you enable them to take ownership of, and pride in, the energy management program. This sense of ownership often turns them into your organization's 'energy champion' - always on the lookout for new ways to improve efficiency and save you energy.

7. Awareness and Culture Change

Holistic Energy Management

Many organizations find that engaging students, staff and faculty in energy efficiency and conservation programs is an effective, low-cost way to begin saving energy, or to strengthen existing energy practices. The challenge is to find out why people behave the way they do, and how to best encourage them to adopt new behaviours. The most effective awareness and behavioural change programs are the ones that capture the imagination of students, staff and faculty and effect widespread cultural change within the organization. The ultimate goal is to get everyone on board and harness the power of small daily behavioural changes. Eventually, behaviours such as turning off lights and computers when they're not being used, using day lighting instead of artificial light, and wearing a sweater to stay warm instead of turning up the heat will simply be considered the norm. "Langara Thinks Green" is a campaign to encourage students, faculty and staff to ''protect and enhance the environment for future generations, and to use and manage Langara's own physical environment in ways that lead to sustainability'. Langara's website provides green tips and information on how to get involved in green programs on campus. They have also developed a Sustainability Pledge, which allows students, faculty and staff to commit to specific energy saving behaviours.

Continuous Improvement

8. Monitoring, Targeting and Reporting (MT&R)

Monitoring, setting targets and reporting on energy use is a crucial element of any energy management program. However, the process must go beyond mere data collection. Detailed analysis of the data is needed to meaningfully report on achieved savings and to properly demonstrate opportunities for energy conservation. Presenting key decision makers and stakeholders with compelling energy information, in a clear and timely manner, encourages people to take action and is an effective way of demonstrating the results of energy management initiatives. This helps to reinforce the benefits of the program, as well as to inspire participants and maintain their interest. Finally, continuously monitoring, targeting and reporting on energy use creates important feedback loops for the organization and helps to support a culture of continuous improvement.

In 2010, Langara College installed sub-meters on electrical and gas utility meters to get a better understanding of energy distribution and use. As a result of this information, the College will be setting energy performance targets for each building.

Thinking Holistically about Energy Management

Taking a holistic approach to energy management will help you set achievable and realistic goals, ensure you have the commitment and support necessary to carry out projects and programs, and inspire a campus-wide culture of energy saving. This approach is so critical to successful energy management that the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is in the process of approving an international standard (ISO 50001) for integrating energy management into organizational procedures and management systems. This standard, if widely adopted across economic sectors, and could influence up to 60 % of the world's energy use. Whether adopting the ISO standard or another energy management approach, the success of any energy program will depend on the eight key areas identified in this article.

Photos courtesy of Langara College.

Read about Prism's Energy Management programs and projects at Langara College.