Improving Military Energy Behavior & Culture
Late 2008, the Office of the Secretary of Defense Power Surety Task Force (PSTF) made an unexpected discovery during a routine housing construction project at Fort Belvoir in Virginia.i In order to demonstrate the energy-saving potential of closed cell spray polyurethane foam (cc-SPF) in housing communities, the PSTF completed a demonstration project involving four houses, each built with varying degrees of energy-efficiency mechanisms. The control house followed a standard Clark construction process with no built-in energy efficiency mechanisms. The second house contained cc-SPF insulation in the attic and the third house cc-SPF insulation in the attic and exterior walls. The final house was decked out with the latest in energy efficiency mechanisms – cc-SPF insulation, rooftop solar system, motion sensors, better windows and more – a residential monument to energy conservation technologies.
When the PSTF went back to analyze energy consumption data for the four houses and to prove the benefits of cc-SPF, they were surprised to find the most energy efficient house was the study’s control house. Shockingly, the Cadillac fourth house was the least energy efficient. Does this mean the cc-SPF foam was ineffective at conserving energy? Not at all. Rather, it serves as a testament to the value of human operators in energy efficiency endeavors and conservation. The couple living in the study’s control house turned off lights when they left rooms, opened windows instead of running the A/C, rarely ran their dishwasher and engaged in other energy-saving behaviors. Simply put, the family in the control house was cognizant of their energy consumption habits and behaved frugally.
For the Department of Defense (DOD), the outcome of the Fort Belvoir study has potentially radical implications. In recent years, the Department has aggressively pursued reductions in its energy consumption both on domestic installations and in overseas operations. Between 2003 and 2007 DOD cut its installation energy use by 10 percent and generated nearly 12 percent of its electricity from renewable sources.ii However, despite these cuts, Federal mandates require even larger reductions in the future. Until recently, the Department has relied almost entirely on physical upgrades and new technologies to achieve these reductions. While these efforts have enabled significant reductions in energy usage, they are relatively expensive options and, frankly, much of the low hanging fruit has already been harvested.
For DoD, the soft technology associated with energy behavior change represents one of the most promising avenues of approach for reducing energy consumption. As the housing study above demonstrates, energy efficient technology in the hands of inefficient operators loses much of its potential benefit. In fact, studies have gone so far as to suggest that more than one-half of high-performance green buildings do not perform to the rating standard they were built to because of suboptimal human energy-related behavior.iii On the other hand, when individuals who work in a building share good energy knowledge, habits and values, they frequently can reduce a facility’s energy use considerably without recourse to investment in physical changes.
Behavior-based campaigns to reduce energy use, while new to the military, are not new to private industry. Applied by many commercial firms for several decades, such campaigns have often resulted in energy savings comparable to those created by physical upgrades and new technologies, but at a fraction of the cost and time. Behavior-based campaigns achieve results by encouraging and demonstrating to personnel how to develop habits and routines that reduce energy consumption and empower personnel to find creative ways to cut energy use. Case studies from private industry show behavior-based methods often result in energy use reductions of 20 percent or more.iv These results are widely reflected in academic literature as well.
While private corporations often have significant economic incentives to seek out all forms of energy conservation, the military is not a for-profit enterprise and is chiefly concerned with operational effectiveness rather than budgetary issues. At the end of the day, DOD leaders will not undertake any endeavor that jeopardizes the military mission. Fortunately, behavior change goes hand in hand with the mission and often enhances it. The significant problem confronting DOD’s energy use has historically been an improper valuation of energy. Until several years ago, military wargaming did not even factor energy into the equation; it was simply assumed present at all times and in the quantity required. However, fuel makes up a majority of the military logistics burden, ties up thousands of personnel in operations and carries an enormous cost in both money and human life – as the war in Afghanistan has demonstrated time and again. Recognition of the fact that even small reductions in energy use can considerably reduce logistics burdens has led to a sea change in the military’s mindset on energy consumption and prompted it to examine the full spectrum of conservation mechanisms, including behavior and cultural change.
On the surface, reforming organizational culture is an incredibly difficult operation since culture’s central function, by definition, is to preserve values against change. Fortunately, this is a challenge that the Department of Defense is uniquely suited to confront as the military excels at creating its own cultural mindsets through its numerous training and education programs. The key to starting the creation of an energy-conscious mindset across the military rests in communicating the idea that behavior change on energy consumption is central to the military’s organizational mission. At every level, service members must understand that energy conservation is directly related to the mission and that wasting energy is anathema to their identity as Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines. Warriors in the field do not waste resources – ammunition, water or food – and energy, both in the field and at home, needs this same high level of valuation. However, absent communication on why energy conservation aids the military mission, no endeavor will succeed.
Both academic work and practical experience shows effective behavior change often starts with leadership. In the hierarchical world of the military where the profit motive plays little or no role, leadership is particularly important and strong leadership can lead to rapid results, if the leader is credible. Within the military, leadership generally affects culture change via two mechanisms. The first is message delivery – communicating from the top down that energy conservation is a valuable priority on which all service members should be focused. In doing this, leaders create a sense of urgency on the subject and reinforce the idea that energy conservation is the new way the military does business. This message lays the groundwork for all else that follows. However, military leaders must also lead by example and offer a visible commitment that reinforces their verbal statements. This can take a variety of symbolic forms, such as driving hybrid vehicles, signing pledge cards committing to energy reduction goals and other personal activities.
Beyond statements and symbolism, military leaders can also promote change by appealing to powerful human instincts such as competition and personal incentives. Humans inherently respond to competition, and this can be used to facilitate energy conservation efforts. In the armed forces, competition can be fostered on a variety of levels: individual to individual, unit to unit, installation to installation or even service to service. By making energy consumption data available and easy to comprehend, commanders can create energy reduction competitions among groups. The instinctual desire to compete, especially present in the military, can be played upon to spur conservation.
The human response to incentives, economic or otherwise, goes hand in hand with the competition motivation. A built-in incentive structure for energy savings can take several forms. Problematically, like other government organizations, military entities have a disincentive to save money. The way the system is currently constructed throughout most of the military, when a unit saves money by reducing its energy consumption, none of the rewards go to the saving unit. Rather, its budget is simply reduced the following year. Some portions of the military – the Navy in particular – have begun to realize this and are fighting their way through layers of bureaucracy and red tape to change the system to allow service members and organizations to receive recognition and financial rewards for their behavior.
In the civilian world, the single most difficult problem related to energy behavior change has traditionally been making changes persistent. While changing behavior in the short term is not particularly difficult, it is far more challenging to make these changes stick. Leadership, competitions and incentives all do their part to change behavior. However, these programs have a tendency to run out of steam and to go away when the current leadership moves on, at which point behavior can revert to its long term mean. In order to preserve the investment made in changing energy behavior today, it will be necessary to consolidate changes into a permanent cultural shift in attitudes. Cultural mindsets take time to develop and result from sustained and successful behavior-based campaigns that fundamentally alter individual and organizational approaches to energy consumption.
While the military has a distinct disadvantage compared to the civilian world in terms of its ability to use financial incentives to affect behavior, it has a large advantage in routinizing behavior once it has been developed and transforming temporary values into long term cultural norms. It does this by inserting the behavior and values it intends to promulgate into its formal and informal training and education systems, and into its regulations and standard operating procedures. Once a behavior becomes part of training reports and syllabi in boot camps, NCO schools, and staff and war colleges, it is likely to be there to stay.
The military is still at a relatively early stage in attempting to improve energy behavior. Far-sighted civilian leaders such as former Secretary of the Air Force, Michael Wynne; Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus and Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, Tom Hicks, have provided strong leadership. Within the last few years senior military commanders, such as the Commandant of the Marine Corps, have strongly backed energy culture change. Nevertheless, much work remains to be done.
Currently, three principle hurdles remain for the military’s energy behavior change project. The first is that the Department of Defense is not used to dealing with the softer sciences. Current standard operating procedures make it far easier for the DoD to spend $10 million to buy a more efficient generator than to spend $10 thousand in a campaign to reduce energy use – even if both are likely to achieve the same long term energy savings. Second, the science related to changing energy behavior has been developed for civilian institutions. While many of the lessons learned in industry and academe apply to the military, few do so without a good deal of adaptation, and adapting these methods will require a good deal of work. Finally, the “valley of death” that prevents the vast majority of new physical technology from moving from the lab to the field applies equally to the soft-technology aimed at changing energy behavior. Moving this emerging technology from the lab to the field will require widespread implementation and testing on military installations.
Three years after its experiment at Fort Belvoir, the military is making strides toward one of the most promising methods of improving energy efficiency in its installations and operations. Improving energy behavior has the potential to make the military significantly leaner and more effective. Although hurdles remain for this innovative new approach, the future looks promising.