Renilde Becqué

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Setting the Goal Posts for Energy Use: How Energy Efficiency Targets Trigger Action

This article was published in November 2015 on The CityFix, an online blog by the WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, which is a program of the World Resources Institute.

“The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score” — Bill Copeland.


Goals help provide our everyday lives with structure, and operate similarly at the institutional level, offering organizations a low cost method of encouraging motivation, communication and accountability. For leaders, good goals help to articulate internal ambitions, allowing them to carve out a common vision while also providing a benchmark for tracking progress and holding parties accountable. In short, goals help organizations to achieve a variety of ends—including the reduction of energy waste.


Energy efficiency improvement goals, also known as energy efficiency targets (intended reductions in energy over a specified time frame that have been defined in a SMART manner), can be a highly effective way for decision makers to improve the use of energy in their communities and operations. For businesses, energy targets are opportunities to aim for potential savings that can be achieved through innovation. Energy efficiency targets can have short or long term timeframes and can be implemented on various scales, ranging from the national level down to individual buildings. Cities should explore both mandatory public sector targets (which help cities to lead by example) and voluntary private sector targets (which can create a spirit of competition and innovation) to forge energy-efficient communities.


Public Sector Targets: Leadership through Example

Setting targets to improve the energy efficiency of a city government’s assets—such as office buildings, public lighting, schools and hospitals—sends a clear message that energy efficiency is something the city values. Governments with large assets under their control are capable of significantly influencing local markets, and can provide local companies with new business opportunities and increased technical capacity. Indeed, defining an energy reduction goal provides a city the opportunity to lead by example, through demonstrating that energy targets once set can be achieved. Furthermore, government led efficiency projects produce useful case studies in retrofitting assets, which provide guidance for and embolden the private sector.


Dubai for example publicly announced its goal of reducing energy consumption by 30 percent by the year 2030; the plan targets properties owned by both the government and private sector and sets annual targets from 2015 onward. To accomplish this, Dubai is setting up a ‘Super ESCO’ to create and oversee a local energy performance contracting market.


Inspiring the Private Sector through Voluntary Targets

To stimulate energy efficiency in the private sector, governments can introduce voluntary targets for the private sector, incentivizing them to take action. For instance, a city could ask real estate owners to sign up for a challenge with the aim of meeting an efficiency target; the winner of the competition is awarded the title of “biggest loser” (of energy consumption). Contests like this one build momentum and generate the additional support needed to strengthen and expand a city’s energy efficiency program. The key with these programs is the element of choice. Because businesses must make the active choice to participate, those who do take part receive community praise as leaders in both the industry and local sustainability, fueling more businesses to join.


Consider New York City’s “Carbon Challenge” program, which was introduced in 2007 and accumulated participants in the years following its launch. The Challenge recruited leading universities, hospitals, companies and residential management firms to pledge to match the city government’s goal of reducing building-related emissions by 30 percent within ten years. Since its beginning, participants have aggressively cut their energy use and emissions, with some already achieving the goal. In fact, by 2014 carbon emissions city-wide for those participating had been cut by an average 19 percent. Two key factors in the Challenge’s success have been its creation of a platform that allows participants to exchange information, and the provision of simple tools to track individual progress along the way. The effort of each participant goes well beyond their individual reduction in emissions – their innovations and efficiency tactics reveal strategies for energy efficiency that can be scaled up across the city and beyond.


Setting Meaningful Targets

Before developing goals and working toward them, it’s important that decision makers consider what makes for a good target. To be effective, a target should quantify the desired energy reduction, specify a baseline or starting point, include a clear timeframe, and identify the main actors. All targets should be clearly stated so that progress towards the target can be easily tracked and communicated, and those responsible for achieving them can be held accountable. Furthermore, targets should be based on the best data regarding what is realistically achievable for local businesses and organizations, and be directly aligned with incentives to spur action.


Nobody enjoys watching a match where the teams run up and down the field without scoring. But this is essentially what many cities and businesses are still doing when it comes to energy efficiency. For cities that don’t want to leave energy efficiency to chance, it is key to have a clear goal and a bold vision with accountability and motivational milestones along the way. Setting an energy efficiency target is a powerful tool to rally stakeholders behind a common vision and accelerate energy efficiency in cities.


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This entry was posted on November 16, 2015 by .

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