Energy use

Last week I accepted an invitation to have a Smart Meter installed to monitor my electricity usage. At pretty much the same time I got an email with an info sheet about the privacy aspects of smart meters. I learned that 'Gas and electricity firms will be able to use smart meters to collect information about how customers use energy as frequently as every half hour'.

Oddly, that week I was in the middle of an activity recommended in the book Designing Your Life asking me to monitor my personal levels of energy every half hour to help me find out what activities led me to feel at my most energetic. The authors provide a paper work sheet for this (rather than a smart-meter – but no doubt the time will come – or even, has come, when we can meter our personal energy smartly).

Exactly as the utility companies, I was measuring my top energy giving or draining activities then noticing the patterns, then asking 'What relatively accessible changes can I make to improve my energy flows?'

I did wonder whether I could compare and correlate the electricity usage with my personal energy levels to find out, for example, if boiling a kettle led to a spike in my personal energy as I then made and drank a cup of tea. But I didn't do that.

This energy theme continued, as later in the week I got an email from an academic asking if we (the organisation I'm working with) would like to participate in some research on energy use. He was talking about environmental footprint, sustainability and energy savings/expenditures as in furniture choices that reduce carbon footprint, energy savings made (measured via utility bills) e.g. by fitting motion sensors for lighting, by fitting blinds that respond to outdoor light levels, …

Because I already had in mind individual household utilities-type energy and personal energy, and now I was being asked about organizational utilities-type energy, I got curious about organizational energy in terms of the workforce. Sure enough – there are theories related to individual employee energy: see, for example, Energy Management of People in Organizations: A Review and Research Agenda and also there are theories of organizational energy linked to employees as a collective. Bruch and Ghoshal authors of the 2003 paper Unleashing Organizational Energy consider that organizational energy often starts with the energy of a few key figures, saying, 'Research suggests that the best leaders first mobilize organizational energy, then focus it.'

Like others, the authors, have difficulty defining this collective energy, saying 'But how to define a force like the wind, both invisible and powerful? Organizational energy is seen only in its effect: the force with which a company functions. Just as burnout is said to have three dimensions (emotional, cognitive and physical), so is organizational energy considered the interplay among a company's emotional, cognitive and physical states.'

One research paper finds that 'Organizational energy is related but not identical to the sum of the energy of individuals. Individual energy, especially of leaders, influences organizational energy, and the energy state of the organization affects the energy of individuals.' And this idea that leaders can generate energy in the workforce is taken up in another research article: 'Transformational leaders are traditionally considered as energizing: the idea is that transformational leaders are able to inspire others and change the way people work toward a common goal'.

So now I have several perspectives on energy use – its dissipation, and generation. I have a utilities one related to carbon footprint for both individuals and organizations, an organizational one related to leaders generating energy, and an individual one related to activities that energise.

The interesting thing is that these perspectives are interdependent – there's lots of research, for example, on how light levels, controllable temperature ability, and types of furniture/paint constituents can contribute to levels of individual energy.

On this, see Ben Waber's et al article Workspaces that Move People which notes that 'Spaces can be designed to favor exploration or engagement or energy to achieve certain outcomes'. It is often leaders who make building design decisions, and if we believe the research it is also leaders who, through their individual energy, help generate organizational energy 'without which a company cannot achieve radical productivity improvements, cannot grow fast and cannot create major innovations'.

So how are you designing to generate organizational energy whilst minimizing environmental footprint and measuring your efforts as you go (without invading privacy)? Let me know.

Note: a company very successful at all of the above is Patagonia, a clothing company. Read the story here.