Modern Energy Management

Washington and Lee University: Building a Culture of Energy Conservation on Campus

September 19, 2019 Season 1 Episode 3
Modern Energy Management
Washington and Lee University: Building a Culture of Energy Conservation on Campus
Chapters
Modern Energy Management
Washington and Lee University: Building a Culture of Energy Conservation on Campus
Sep 19, 2019 Season 1 Episode 3
Nate Nilles & Amber Artrip & Jane Stewart
In this episode, Jane Stewart, the Energy Specialist at Washington and Lee University, walks us through the energy conservation story at the ninth-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States.
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, Jane Stewart, the Energy Specialist at Washington and Lee University, walks us through the energy conservation story at the ninth-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. It was important to maintain the familial, welcoming culture of the university when considering an energy management program. In this episode, you'll earn how Jane was able to weave resource efficiency and sustainability into the already strong culture of this institution. The result: since the launch of the energy management program on campus Jane and the team have reduced energy consumption by 30% and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 34%. All of this accomplished as the university grew by ~250,000 Sqft. Learn more about the incredible work happening at Washington and Lee and many other innovative organizations by subscribing to The Modern Energy Management Podcast wherever you get your podcasts.

Have a story you'd like to share? Email us at marketing@luciddg.com, we'd love to have you on the show!

Speaker 1:
0:00
Hello everyone and welcome to the modern energy management podcast. My name is amber, our trip, and I'm your producer and host of the show. And I'm happy to be joined here by my co host, Nate Nilus. Awesome. I'm excited to hear about Washington and Lee University. And as a reminder, this podcast is a place for sustainability and energy and facilities professionals to share their stories of modern energy management. And today we are thrilled to be joined by one of our customers, Jane Stewart from Washington and Lee University. She is the energy specialist and thank you for being on the show, Jane. Hi Amber. Hi Nate. I'm happy to be here. Thanks so much. So, uh, we had the pleasure of talking a few months back and um, it was really fun to hear your story of how you got into sustainability. So why don't you tell us a little bit about your background, how you got into sustainability and uh, tell us a little bit about your role at Washington Lee.
Speaker 1:
1:00
Okay. Well to start. Um, I will confess that if you read the first half of my resume, you would be very surprised to see the second half probably. I actually have a degree in comparative literature and I spent the first several years of my career doing work that didn't have anything at all to do with sustainability or energy management, including actually the first several years that I was with Washington and Lee, I joined the university as a member of our communications team. And after sometime there I moved into our development programs. So I started working in corporate and foundation relations and then moved into individual giving. And so that all sounds fairly far removed from what I'm doing now. But during that time I did spend a lot of time, obviously all my time actually understanding the university and the stories here and connecting with our faculty and our students when I was in communications, in order to write stories and communicate effectively about what was going on here.
Speaker 1:
2:00
And then when I moved into development, obviously I continued with that kind of engagement, but it was focused even more intentionally on the university's priorities. And the values that we were looking to reinforce by connecting with, with people and supporters both internally and outside of the university community. And um, so that actually involved thinking a lot about how we used our resources. Obviously when you're working in fundraising, you are talking to generous people who care very deeply about your institutional mission and are looking to support that. And it makes you really mindful of all the different ways a large organization spends money. So during the time that I was in development, I would find myself walking through campus and admiring our beautiful grounds and feeling so excited about our fabulous faculty and students. And then you'd walk into a meeting and the lights would be on in an empty and maybe the air conditioning would be much colder than it needed to be.
Speaker 1:
3:03
And these little details started to catch my attention, both from an environmental perspective. Um, but also just from an efficiency perspective and a resource management per se. So during the time that I was in development, one of the priorities that really grew in prominence for the university was sustainability initiatives. And the university had been working on this in a, in a variety of ways for some time. But in 2011, they announced an effort to begin a really concerted energy conservation program. And the university was taking a, a distinctive approach, I think certainly for the time, it wasn't one that I had heard of before. They were contracting with an outside company that had the philosophy that energy conservation is most successful when it's mindful of the culture within its taking place within which it's taking place. So their business model was essentially you're better off hiring somebody who understands your institutional culture and teaching them about energy management.
Speaker 1:
4:13
Then hiring somebody who understands energy management and trying to teach them about your institutional culture. So the university created two positions actually for energy specialists and hired myself and my wonderful colleague Morris Trimmer two to build and launch a behavior based energy conservation program. And um, it was a, it was a shift that I think for people who just saw me coming out of development seems [inaudible] like a huge change. But really I had spent all of my time at Washington and Lee looking at our institution and internalizing our priorities and trying to figure out how, how to match up our aspirations with our realities and really also trying to convince our community to, um, to come along with initiatives and to support the things that we were trying to do. So in sort of those broad strokes, it was actually a very natural transition but I couldn't wear nice shoes anymore.
Speaker 2:
5:23
Jane, you came at it from an angle that I thought was really interesting that we haven't heard before, but in you know, understanding the culture in your opinion, I guess, you know, every university does have something unique and we work with a lot of them. But you know, what is the big drivers or differences that you see? Is it someone that has, you know, gone to the university and has and has worked there and been involved in that long term? Is it just every university has a different mix of students? How do you think about culture and how that pairs with what you're doing for sustainability?
Speaker 1:
5:58
Well, I think university is like, like any big organization or even any locality, there is a pride in a certain aspect of character, right? So there are some universities that really pride themselves on being cutthroat or pride themselves on having a culture of nurturing their students or um, you know, we sort of pick out these different things that, that we identify with as a co, as a shared environment, elements of a shared environment. And so [inaudible] where I think that really became important for us at Washington and Lee is we are a, if you haven't visited the campus, I suggest that you do. It's a beautiful place in a beautiful part of the country. Um, it's a small campus. We are a small liberal arts college with a very long history and an extremely civil and collegial community. So a lot of the people who have worked here at the university, it is not uncommon to meet people who have worked here for 30 years.
Speaker 1:
7:04
We have a, um, a culture that really prides itself on feeling like family. And some people in our community are quick to point out. That's not always a good thing because sometimes your family drives you crazy. But for the most part there's a real culture of respect here and, and that goes up and down the hierarchy. So, so people here really work over time to make sure that they're colleagues and the students that they work with feel respected and feel comfortable and feel well-served. And so where this comes in on the facilities end of things is the mandate really had always been make sure every building on campus is perfect all the time. Um, so if a professor wants to do their research until two o'clock in the morning, in the middle of July or wants to come in on New Year's Day, they will find their office as warm as it needs to be or as cool as it needs to be and as well lit as it needs to be.
Speaker 1:
8:07
That was the ethos that we want everybody to be welcome and comfortable anywhere on campus all the time, which is a wonderful, hospitable ideal. Obviously there are some challenges when you start to think of it in terms of your resource management and the environmental impact. So I would say really the, the biggest task at the beginning of our work was trying to work with people on the idea that we could be open and we could serve this sort of 24 hour academic fervor without always having the air conditioning on or without always running the heat and keeping the lights on. And it sounds in retrospect now, you know, where about eight years in, and in retrospect it sounds very quaint that we had to start by building this, but it was a really big deal at the time. My colleague and I actually had one on one meetings with dozens and dozens of people on campus who were in charge of their building areas to talk through this idea with them of when conditions might not be the way that they expected them to be and how we were going to test that, roll it out and make sure it wouldn't be problematic.
Speaker 1:
9:17
So yeah, there was real fear on the, um, on the user and you know, sort of the deans being concerned that students would be uncomfortable when they were trying to study through the night. And people in our facilities management group who were concerned that students were going to be uncomfortable and the deans were going to be angry and it was going to come back to them. Um, so, so that cultural piece on our campus meant we had to really take a very personal approach. Two, trying to build this program. I think there are some institutions where there's an, there's a very different approach and people are comfortable with the top down management and it would just be enough for a certain administrator to say this is how it's going to be. But that's not, we could have done that here and we would have made a lot of people angry and I don't think we would have been nearly so successful.
Speaker 2:
10:12
So Jane, you talked about some competing priorities. What lever do you feel resonated the most when you started to, to really get them to focus or care about sustainability and efficiency?
Speaker 1:
10:26
Well I think it's an interesting question because I think just about everybody that we spoke with, they cared about sustainability and they understood the need for greater efficiency. They also really cared about their students. And their coworkers and so what we had to do, it was just bend over backwards to reassure them that we were not going to sacrifice one for the other and um, that involved, I know we're talking about modern energy management, but a lot of that early work was very old school and involved. Again, my colleague and I spending a lot of time in buildings very late at night and on the weekends to confirm how they were actually being used and then we could report back to the people who felt responsible for those spaces and say, okay, these are the patterns that we've seen. We get that students are in here from midnight to two, but they're not in there from eight to 10 and this is how we're going to create the schedule.
Speaker 1:
11:19
Everything was customized to the actual behavior patterns that we were seeing and [inaudible]. I think once people understood that we were willing to take that kind of care, they were, they were ready to do their own part to be just as diligent on their end as well. I love that. It sounds like you haven't really great community of people who really do care. I want to take it back to your story at the beginning because it sounds like I can relate, I don't come from an energy background or a sustainability background, but I've always cared about sustainability and there is a huge learning curve, um, coming from outside of the industry. So can you walk us through kind of your, your process of how you learned the industry and how you got started? Yes, it was intense. Um, the outside company that I mentioned, the university had, had hired to help us set this, this program up really just threw us into the fire.
Speaker 1:
12:24
They had a team of experts from different areas that would come in on a weekly rotational basis and we'd spend, you know, a few days on HVAC ax systems, a few days on bas management. We've spent, I spent more time in mechanical rooms and on rooftops. I felt like there were several weeks where I would barely see the, you know, that the interiors of the buildings that everybody else was in because we were spending so much time in these secret spaces. So a lot of it was this really intensive on the job [inaudible] training, which was um, fascinating and incredibly useful and I think provided a great grounding because there is so much technology available and it is, um, it facilitates so much interesting work and such great data generation that I think it's tempting to stay in that space and forget the value of actually engaging physically with your equipment and with the spaces that are occupied.
Speaker 1:
13:33
And so those early days of spending time in mechanical rooms and checking hot water set points and all of those things I think will always keep me grounded in the fact that you can't just depends on technology, that your bas might tell you something that is not what you will find if you actually go into the building. Um, so that was [inaudible], that was the beginning of my training was just sort of this intensive on the job training with these outside consultants. And, and since then have built in, um, specific trainings here and there with different kinds of, um, programming. And I did a really fascinating program that Stanford offered on [inaudible] energy innovation and emerging technologies, which has been great and augmented our work here, particularly as we have expanded into beyond sort of that very narrow energy conservation focus that we had in the beginning.
Speaker 1:
14:29
We can now do our greenhouse gas accounting and are actively working on our, our carbon emissions profile and reductions. But, but those sort of early lessons of put your hands on the equipment, read the dial yourself at least periodically to make sure that you're not just living in technology and ignoring what might be happening on the ground. Um, well speaking of technology and best practices and modern energy management, can you speak to, um, some of the best practices and technologies you've adopted to, um, enable modern energy management at Washington and Lee? Well, I think certainly in terms of the most useful technologies, having a building automation system has been huge for us. That is something that has improved greatly and expanded greatly. Even just in the last decade. We still had pneumatics in a lot of buildings when I started and we didn't have the control to do daily setback schedules, um, the way that we can now.
Speaker 1:
15:35
So that has been really tremendous. And our um, I'm reluctant to sound like I'm plugging it, but our use of building s has been fantastic as well. I have found that being able to use our building dashboards so that I can log in in the morning and just at a glance just by looking at heat maps, for example, verify in a matter of minutes that are the setbacks are doing what they're supposed to be rather than sort of walking buildings or are going through the bas system in detail to verify that same information. It's so much faster and so much cleaner. And the really fun thing about the building o s tool is being able to share it with other people outside of facilities who appreciate a more user friendly view. So we've been able to share our building dashboards with building managers and really bring them into the process of, of trying to see their data and improve.
Speaker 1:
16:36
Um, and so that's been great. And one of the ways that we've been most excited, I think to use our, our building OSPF platform has been in our student engagement. So we, we're lucky enough to receive a grants from the Jessie Ball Dupont fund a few years ago to put submeters in individual apartments and townhouses that are part of a new residential housing village on our campus. And when that village was being constructed, the students who were asked about their feelings about being in this new space, they said it was really important to them to have some tools for measuring how they were doing in this independent living space. These apartments and townhouses function very much like the kind of spaces you'd hope to live when you graduate. Um, they have kitchens, they have [inaudible] machines. They have dishwashers, they have control over the own thermostat. So it was important to the students too, to be able to gauge their energy use and what impact that was having.
Speaker 1:
17:50
So having the submeters in these apartments and being able to connect them to the lucid dashboard gave us this fantastic opportunity to create a custom dashboard for every single apartment and townhouse and engage the students on that really highly detailed level. So last year was the first year that we were able to do this during the, uh, the weeks when students were moving in. We send every student in that residential village an email with a link to their own custom dashboard and a little message about how they could use it and how we hoped they'd engage with it. And the dashboard includes information about their energy use over different time periods, weekly, monthly, that kind of thing. But it also has it comparison to what their neighbors are doing. It has a co two equivalent, it has a, a table that shows the dollar equivalent. And I think for some of these students who are anticipating getting out into the real world where they're going to have to pay their own electricity bill, that's a really useful tool for them to see.
Speaker 1:
18:53
Jeez, our, our bill is four times what apartment three C is, what are they doing that we ought to be doing? Um, and [inaudible]. So that's something that we've been excited about because we really have seen an increased engagement from these students. We love it when we get questions from students just out of the blue who will email us and say, hey, we noticed that our users really gone up in the last week. Do you have any suggestions? That's a, it's a great feeling to know that people are, are using it and are likely to carry what they're learning into their, into their next living environment. Um, we were also able to use those same, the submeters in those same dashboards to launch a competition last spring and energy reduction competition, which exceeded all of our expectations for engagement and success. So that was really fun and was not something that we would've been able to do. Um, at all as well without that technology. I love that. That was one of my favorite stories was learning about the competition and how excited the students got about, um, not only the prizes that were included for, you know, reducing energy in their, in their apartments, but that also the overall feeling of knowing their impact and working together to reduce their impact.
Speaker 2:
20:15
Yeah, that's part, that part is interesting. I wonder though, did, did it have a, a significant monetary impact to Jane that, you know, other faculty and people on campus outside of student engagement got excited about how, did you close the loop or did you on that
Speaker 1:
20:30
well in terms of, in terms of the prizes or the money that was saved over that period of the competition,
Speaker 2:
20:35
the savings side of it.
Speaker 1:
20:37
Yeah, I think we have been, that's actually a really interesting question because from the outset a lot of our efforts have been framed leading with the environmental [inaudible] and then explaining that there is also a financial impact. And, um, the reason that we are taking these steps is because we want to be responsible and we are looking to reduce our emissions and we're trying to cut waste [inaudible] but it is great to be able to reinforce that in doing this. We're also making sure that we're not wasting our financial resources on things that we don't need. Which sort of comes back to my, my origin story about when I was in development. Um, it's making sure that, that the resources that we all work together so hard to secure are spent as well as they can possibly be spent. Absolutely. And wasn't there, didn't you guys have a unique, a prize that you were offering the students?
Speaker 1:
21:36
If I remember correctly, we had so much fun engaging with the students on this competition. Um, we had, when we were planning the competition, we reached out to the staff of residential advisors. So these are students who are hired by the university to be responsible for certain areas of on campus housing. They're a resource to their other students who live there and they, um, help enforce the rules and that kind of thing. So we reached out to the head residential advisors and, and ask them how they thought, how effective they thought a competition could be, how long it should be, when it should start, trying to get their input on how to, how to make it work in terms of timing. And most importantly we asked them what they thought might motivate people in terms of trying to win. So they responded with a list of great ideas for prizes, including things like um, money toward the campus, dining operations and university store gift cards.
Speaker 1:
22:35
There was this suggestion, have a, a catered meal from a local restaurant that's really popular. And then the last thing on the list that was framed this in an email exchange. And the last thing on that list was, and if it's possible, it would really be amazing if we could spend some time with a dog. So that was sort of the grand prize that they had identified as being the biggest motivator for our competition. And that surprised me very much. And I also, I thought it was adorable and spoke very well of these students. And so we did actually work with a m [inaudible], a person from a local therapy dog operation who volunteered to bring her dog to come and hang out as part of the celebration for the grand prize winners. And we, we had envisions the competition taking place over three weeks because we didn't want to make it so long that it would be onerous, but we wanted to not make it so short that students would just go all out and do things that were not necessarily sustainable. Um, it turns out we underestimated our students' capacity for suffering because even though the competition was over three weeks, some of the competitors really did take it to extreme lengths. And actually the apartment that one reduced their energy consumption by over 80% during that period. So they were using headlamps and taking cold showers. I mean they really, they described, um, one of their parents coming to visit and having sort of the family chat in the dark and they really did everything they could.
Speaker 2:
24:10
The parents are thinking, how much are we paying for housing in this place? Or what are you doing?
Speaker 1:
24:14
I wondered if that was part of the conversation. But, so this was, this was the apartment that one, and when I notified them sort of, you know, at midnight on the final day of the competition that they had one and that they would get the grand prize and the dinner and the visit with the dog and everything else, they came back with a request that they be able to share their prize with everybody else who had competed. And um, they volunteered that they knew a dinner for everybody who competed would be a bigger, would require a bigger budget than just for their apartment and volunteered to chip in with funds that they had from other programs they were involved with. And we were in a position where we didn't need to take them up on that. Um, but it was just amazing to me that they volunteered to do that, that it was important to them to share it. And when I asked why, they just very quickly said, look, everybody worked really hard on this. Everybody who was competing was really competing and we just don't feel right about not including them. And I just thought that that was, that that was incredible, that it was very surprising because it obviously these particular students worked very hard to win, but they, they weren't interested in gloating about it or lording over anybody. They just, they just thought it was fun and they wanted everybody to be able to participate. So that was really nice.
Speaker 2:
25:39
That sounds great. I think that really closes the loop on what you talked about, the very beginning of our conversation and what a sense of community they have at that institution and you know that the culture piece of tying that to the right outcomes really, really came together full circle. It was a great story. Yeah. Jane, what do you have exciting that you're thinking about as an institution? You're thinking about it as a community going into FYI 2020 to continue the sustainability push and to keep people engaged.
Speaker 1:
26:12
Well, we actually just released an update for the university's climate action plan. The university president approved that just a few weeks ago and it's just been published on our university website. And that is tremendously exciting because it sort of wraps everything that we've been talking about in terms of these specific energy management ideas and working with specific communities and puts it in this context of this really important institutional push that is not about my office reaching out to individual parts of the community, but about our entire community coming together to figure out what we can all do together to move the institution forward. So we, um, at Washington and Lee, we also have a director of sustainability. Kim Hodge, she's great. She's been working on a lot of related initiatives. We have a sustainability committee that draws from lots of different parts of campus. And so all of all of our offices that are sort of specifically tasked in this area, we're in the process [inaudible] trying to put our arms around everybody else on campus and make sure that, that everybody understands their part in our climate action initiatives and how each of us can contribute, not just by participating in the programs that are launched.
Speaker 1:
27:33
Bye Sustainability or energy staff, but by creating their own initiatives and making their own decisions about how they can improve within their area of expertise and operations. So that's really exciting to me. It feels like we're bringing the community effort to an even higher level over there. Yeah, and actually I guess I should, I should mention that during the past few years that we've had this program, we have reduced our energy consumption on campus by about 30% and we've reduced our carbon emissions by about 34% and during that time we expanded the campus by about 250,000 square feet, including this residential village. So that's 24 hour occupied square footage as well. So we feel really good about the work that we've done and I'm even more excited about the work that we're about to do. That's really powerful. It's really powerful to carry those stats with youtube. It helps.
Speaker 1:
28:31
Helps keep us going. You know, we're all, we're all fighting the same mission. Yup. I think, I think if anything, if I were to think of sort of key takeaways that I would share, not necessarily advise because we by no means have this all figured out and I'm always always learning from peers and so excited to hear about what's going on to other institutions. But in terms of energy management, one thing that does stick out for me that I think is valuable is not to be afraid to trust your people. I think as technology gets better and better, there is a temptation to say, I don't really need to talk to those people. I can just control their temperature or their lights or their schedule or their chilled water or whatever it is from my desk. And they don't even really need to know. But what the last few years here at Debbie Nell has taught me is that, okay, the people on your campus or in your organization are not obstacles to be mitigated or assets to be managed. They are collaborators, you know their, their partners to be included. And even though sometimes they will frustrate you, they will also surprise you and really wonderful and exciting ways.
Speaker 1:
29:43
That's wonderful. Well, it sounds like you're doing a great job of that over at Washington and Lee, thank you so much for being on the show. It's been an absolute pleasure chatting with you and I hope the pleasure of mine. I hope you come back soon. Come back on the podcast and share all the good new things you do in 2020 I'll come back when we're carbon neutral and you can help me celebrate. There you go. Great for good dog. I will bring a dog. I love it. Thank you and to all of you out there listening, thank you for tuning in to the modern energy management podcasts. Don't forget to go to the apple podcast app and subscribe to the show and give us five stars. If you like what you hear, if you have a story that you would like to share with us, feel free to email us@marketingatluciddg.com we would love to hear your story. Until then, we will be back next week with more great stories from energy managers and sustainability leaders. Until then, have a great day.
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