Driving behavioral change is difficult. But it can be a lot easier when people understand the big picture reason behind a change effort. When it comes to energy, managers sometimes say that employees don’t always buy into behavior change at work. They think, "the company pays for energy, why should I change?" Employees often don’t connect on a personal level to why everyone should pay attention to energy management, regardless of who pays for the energy consumed.

So how do you connect the dots to get the results you need? One way is to explain the big picture in real life terms. Everyone knows that conserving energy at home or at work produces lower energy bills. But what about conserving energy to save jobs and protect our energy system?

On the jobs front: This past January was one of the coldest months our area has seen in over a decade. Consumers cranked up their heat to combat the polar vortex. This reaction placed extraordinary demand on the energy grid, and prices on the energy markets went sky high. So high that renewable energy provider Clean Currents had to close its doors after almost ten years of operation. The company posted on January 31, “the recent extreme weather, which sent the wholesale electricity market into uncharted territories, has fatally compromised our ability to continue to serve customers.” Would putting on warmer clothing have saved those jobs? Maybe not, but it would have eased the strain on the grid and perhaps avoided some of the power outages.

On the energy system front: Part of energy management, at home and at work, is about easing off on demand when the weather is super hot or super cold. The fate of Clean Currents suggests that consumers and suppliers have a mutual responsibility to be smarter about energy. We can't store electricity efficiently yet. So suppliers must plan and control power plants and the grid so that supply and demand levels match at all times. Utilities plan for this 24 hours in advance, based on weather forecasts, as best they can. But the scale of human behavior in extreme circumstances often just exceeds available capacity. Many people turn the thermostat up or down during extremes all at the same time, and their collective actions strain the grid and the markets. When we max out the grid beyond supply, the grid imbalance often results in power outages that have significant consequences. Prices for energy skyrocket and affect energy companies, even if the impact when spread among many consumers may not seem so dramatic. Large-scale smarter consumption and business sustainability strategies can help avoid stress on the grid and the markets.

On a more regular basis, we also affect the grid by how we consume. Our population and consumption rates are growing at an exponential rate. This includes energy consumption. When we don’t conserve, we head toward our energy infrastructure capacity limits faster than need be. Then we all pay for expensive expansions instead of being able to improve the efficiency of what we have (and reduce energy costs while doing so).

Make the change! Behavioral changes in daily consumption habits can mean up to a 40% consumption reduction. Many of the changes that work are simple, like turning off lights when leaving a room for more than ten minutes. Or using smart strips and energy saver or power down modes to cut energy drawn by many appliances and types of equipment even when idle. When you make these changes a habit both at work and at home, you are part of the solution for everyone, not just your company and your family. If these changes were to happen on a large scale, our utilities would be able to focus on upgrading our current infrastructure. They could move faster toward building a smart grid. And that would really help us manage price volatility and avoid power outages even in times of extreme weather events.

Energy management is much more that just saving money. It's about the big picture of protecting and improving our energy systems for all - including you!