Using Modern Energy Management to Focus on Efficiency & Sustainability

October 15, 2019

Focusing on sustainability and energy efficiency, the Modern Energy Management podcast invites facility innovators to discuss energy best practices that go beyond the meter. In this week’s show, we had a conversation with Jane Stewart from Washington and Lee University.

Washington and Lee is a private liberal arts university in Lexington, Virginia and the 9th oldest institution of higher education in the U.S. Despite being steeped in history, Ms. Stewart is helping move its buildings into the future.

In her role as Energy Specialist for the University, Jane leverages her previous jobs at the school in communications and donor development to inform programs around sustainability and energy efficiency. Starting with an attitude that sustainable practices and efficient use of energy is a way to honor the resources that donors have provided, she believes her work is integral to the institution’s mission and values.

Engaging Cultures & Values

Like many smaller universities, Washington and Lee (known as W&L to students and alums) is a tight-knit community. Understanding, and being sensitive to, the unique culture and character of the university is key to building successful sustainability initiatives which, in the case of W&L, means creating programs that treat students, faculty, visitors and donors like family.

Along with her colleague Morris Trimmer, Jane has built and launched a behavior-based energy conservation program with the goal of making people “welcome and comfortable anywhere on campus all the time.”

An "Old School" Approach

In the beginning, the pair discovered that everyone on campus cared about sustainability and understood the need for greater efficiency. But the people responsible for campus spaces also cared about their students and coworkers. To allay their fears, Stewart and Trimmer felt it was important to “bend over backwards to reassure them that we were not going to sacrifice one for the other.”

The team spent many hours on nights and weekends in buildings around campus analyzing the usage patterns of students and faculty. They discovered that while many buildings were being used from midnight to 2am, some were nearly empty from 8pm to 10pm. Sharing this kind of detailed information with building administrators and deans was key to getting buy-in from everyone involved.

Raising the Bar on Sustainability

It’s not surprising that a school as historic as Washington and Lee would have less-than-modern systems throughout campus. In addition to updating mechanical systems like HVAC, lighting and water heating, the university is building technology like Building OS into its new campus housing… And getting students involved in conservation and sustainability.

Jane and her team have created an innovative way to increase the involvement of the students living in the new residential villages. By providing a link to the custom dashboard for their apartment or townhouse on move-in day, students are able to easily review statistics on energy usage and see how they rate against neighbors in their village and across campus. The dashboards even convert energy data into dollars, offering residents a taste of what they will have to manage when they are living out in the “real world”.

It’s easy to understand the incentive for the university in a program like this…saving money. But for students, Jane created other surprising incentives that really boosted the students’ involvement. Rather than cash prizes for monthly energy-saving winners, the sustainability team worked with local restaurants and a local therapy dog operation to offer a catered dinner and an evening with one of the service dogs as a grand prize.

Grade A Results

Since beginning their sustainability programs, Washington and Lee has reduced its energy consumption on campus by more than 30%. Through physical plant upgrades and the introduction of new technologies, they have reduced their carbon emissions by about 34%. All these reductions have been achieved even as the campus has continued to grow…with new residential villages and other additions having expanded the campus by 250,000 square feet.

Never Stop Learning

According to Jane Stewart, learning about new and better ways to use energy is a never-ending process. There are, however, a few pieces of knowledge she believes will help anyone involved in sustainability programs.

First, she advises practitioners to never be afraid to trust their people. When energy managers simply take control of room temperatures, lights and appliances, people don’t get involved in the process. Rather than thinking of users as obstacles to be mitigated or assets to be managed, consider them collaborators and partners. While there may be frustrations along the way, people will surprise you in really wonderful and exciting ways.

To hear Jane's episode and more on the Modern Energy Management podcast, click here.