SEM for Multifamily Part II


Turns out SEM for Multifamily is more than a cool idea – it actually works.

SEM for Multifamily Part I gave you a quick primer on what SEM is in general, then walked through the objectives and initial learnings from Puget Sound Energy’s ground-breaking pilot. At that point, the pilot team of Milepost Consulting and O’Brien and Company was very excited about the level of participant engagement (and holding our breath a little on whether or not energy savings might actually be realized).

Well, the first cohort of 15 properties has completed their commitment, and our friends at Cadmus have performed their measurement and verification, and we’ve got exciting news! The program exceeded the 5% savings goal for owner-paid electricity (overall positive total savings = 6.4%) and achieved 1.04% savings for resident-paid electric for an overall, positive portfolio savings of 1.7% – all through engagement, education and behavior change. The pilot also saved 3.2% in commercial gas consumption, increased completion of capital projects (which also resulted in reduced water consumption) and increased participation in existing residential programs offered by PSE.

This is great news for sure. We all learned a lot and even had some fun. One of the biggest lessons was that we had to stay flexible. The world of multifamily is constantly changing. Staffing, occupancy, systems, you name it – very little stays the same for very long. Which meant we were regularly course-correcting from what we thought was going to happen and to what actually happened. Here are five examples of where flexibility helped us succeed:

  1. Leadership Plays Best at Ground Level

What we thought: Engage leadership at the top and they will push the initiative down through the organization to ensure participation and success.

What we learned: The most engaged properties were led by motivated property staff and resource conservation managers at the corporate level. This dream team configuration ensured high participation in the monthly call, encouraged O&M staff to complete action lists and supported the implementation of resident events. These properties were also more likely to participate in an energy savings challenge, direct install opportunities and other PSE programs.

  1. Teach Your Property Staff to Fish

What we thought: Developing strategies to directly engage residents in energy-saving behaviors is a necessary component for the program.

What we learned: Property staff are always looking for new ways to engage residents and support their needs, and residents trust property staff more than a bunch of strangers from their electric utility. MF SEM provided on-site staff with tools and education that allowed them to be the direct link to helping residents with energy-related matters.

  1. Turnover Can Kill Participation

What we thought: We will provide coaching, education materials, tools and events that will help staff and residents better understand energy management.

What we learned: Staff turnover is part of the landscape for multifamily properties. Only one of the participating properties did NOT have a key player transfer to another site, creating a gap in communication and learnings. Properties with the highest turnover were the most difficult to engage, resulting in missed monthly calls and reduced participation.

  1. The Power of the To Do List

What we thought: Each property team will be able to track their energy use through an online platform. This will help motivate on-the-ground staff to implement a property-specific list of energy-saving strategies.

What we learned: Participants were highly motivated by the list itself. Property staff are used to to-do lists, and energy management became just another list of activities that needed to be completed and checked off. Transferring energy data from the utility to a visual platform also proved challenging due to privacy and formatting concerns. While the pilot team was extremely excited about data visualization, staff were more interested in specific activities they could implement.

  1. Engagement Isn’t Always Obvious

What we thought: The biggest energy savers will be those most engaged in the elements of the program.

What we learned: While the pilot included posted monthly energy savings flyers for residents and monthly calls and cohort training for property staff, engagement was mixed. And not obvious. Properties who exhibited the highest engagement were not necessarily the biggest savers, and those who appeared less engaged still saved energy. Others failed to achieve savings for reasons outside of the pilot team’s areas of influence.

For direct questions or additional requests, please contact Tashina Jirikovic:

Tashina Jirikovic
Tashina Jirikovic