Poster for Burlington's Energy Saving Competition

Be an energy champion!

Reducing energy consumption is a mandated goal of many communities in Canada, and that includes the Ontario City of Burlington. But how do you get your employees to be more energy conscious? 

Although the City had implemented several energy saving methods at its indoor ice arenas, it didn’t seem like their full potential was being reached. So, an energy awareness program was developed, geared for their operations teams. To make it more interesting, it was made into a friendly competition, pitting eight of Burlington’s municipal arenas against each other to see who could save the most. In a very short period of time, the operations teams’ energy consciousness and behaviours were changed. And the City began saving energy, water, money — and greenhouse gas emissions…practically overnight.

You’re welcome to re-use Burlington Ice Rink Energy Competition for your own teams. It’s a low-cost Landmark case study featured on Tools of Change, the most extensive, freely-accessible collection of voluntary behaviour change, social marketing and cbsm case studies available on the web.

But first, take a look at what happened in Burlington.

Buy-in and Education

Before the challenge began, a couple of important things happened. First was buy-in. The buy-in came in the form of moral support from the City’s top brass, including senior managers and the Mayor, all on board and rooting for the project. Second was education. Seminars to teach and share ideas on where energy could be saved were held, and staff were trained. And because no two arenas are alike, with equipment and user group differences, a formula was developed to ensure a level playing field amongst the competitors. That way, the energy saved at any arena would be a quantifiable number and one that would stand on its own despite the differences.

That formula was:

Energy Use Intensity = (Electricity consumption + natural gas consumption) ÷ (facility area [ft] x facility operating hours)

Saving Energy = More Work? No!


A workshop to support the energy saving competition in Burlington

At the beginning, there were concerns from the operations teams, like whether saving energy would mean more work. It was determined that the work would be the same, but executed with a different behavioural approach. And there were concerns about potential complaints from user groups too, but at the end it was determined that no users complained.

There were also domain issues, after all, these operators had been running arenas for a long time and knew how to make ice well.

“We don’t deny that,” says David Taggert, Manager of Facility Assets at the City of Burlington. “We think you can make ice well AND also save energy.” As it turns out, Taggert was right.

The rinks were challenged to reduce the energy used over a two month period by 15% compared to the year before. That goal was a result of an energy use survey that had been previously conducted.

In fact, the winning rink reduced their energy use by 18% — and decreased their water usage by 37%, a decrease was a result of undetected leaks being found and fixed because, armed with the knowledge of how to save energy, the operations staff learned what to look for, and went looking when they found anomalies in their facility.

Other Positive Side Effects

Dark rink

Turn off the lights!

There were other positive side effects of the competition, too. Many of the messages to both the operators and the user groups were common sense messages, like, “Turn off the lights” or “Shut the doors” and, for the skating  rink itself, “Close the gates” – habits started to form — even with the user groups. And, because so much of the training was focused on how to use the equipment in more energy efficient ways, the City found the equipment is being taken care of better, giving their assets a longer shelf life. For the participants themselves, the energy-saving behavioural changes have made a difference to their own energy bills at home, too.

Energy Conscious

Changing peoples’ attitudes is the fastest way to save energy,” Taggart says. By changing attitudes and behaviours, by involving them in energy saving ideas, they were able to save energy, water and money — a total of $26,000 in just two months. Although the competition is over, the energy awareness goals have continued and after one year, they reported the following impressive reductions:

  • 1.8 million kWh of electricity and natural gas consumption per year.
  • 16,100 litres of potable water consumption.
  • Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of 270 metric tonnes of CO2, the equivalent of avoiding the GHG emissions of 56 vehicles.
  • $158,000 per year (based on actual bills.)

The Burlington Ice Rink Energy Competition was designated a landmark case study for Tools of Change because it was low-cost, is easily replicated and easy to implement. The total cost of the program, which included five training sessions, print materials, posters, etc. ended up being just under $30K, most of that covered by sponsors.

It’s something that you should take a look at and consider for your arenas. Find out more about the case study here.