My New Year’s resolutions: get SMART, travel more, use less energy

Blog | December 19, 2014 - 12:00 am
By Virginia Hewitt , Local Policy Research Assistant

I start thinking about my New Year’s resolution earlier than most. I like to think ahead and know what I’m getting into before committing. This year I could go to the gym more, eat fewer hamburgers, or do more traveling. OK, let’s start with just one thing. Maybe I’ll try to travel more. But how do I set the perfect goal for me? Where do I even start?

Thanks to my organization’s work on community energy planning, I know I can use the SMART goal-setting framework to wrap my head around my plans.

  • Specific: Where do I want to go?
  • Measureable: Does my goal mean cover more miles, or see more new places?
  • Attainable: Can I really afford trips to England, France, and Germany?
  • Relevant: Would a trip to Germany and Japan be putting my language skills to use?
  • Time-bound: Will I achieve this all in one year or is my goal really about developing a new life-long habit?

Communities and large organizations can use this same framework to set their goals. Our new technical assistance toolkit piece, Local Government Energy Management Goals: Best Practices and Platforms, describes issues and options for cities to consider in setting goals for energy usage intensity reduction. Maybe visiting every continent doesn’t make the most sense for me, but reducing energy use makes sense for every local government. Using less energy saves taxpayer dollars, reduces pollution, and enables a local government to improve its services and shift resources toward achieving other goals.

Like my resolution, a city’s energy management goal should be SMART. A specific goal is defined with a consistent metric. Energy usage can be defined in kilowatt-hours (kWh) or by a proxy such as greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). Next, a goal cannot be achieved if it is not measured. A local government should institutionalize an energy usage tracking system. Benchmarking software, such as ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager, tracks and measures building- and portfolio-level energy usage and delivers feedback.

The third criterion is attainability. A local government should set a target that is meaningful yet challenging to achieve. What past energy savings has the city achieved? What resources are or will be available to achieve new savings? What is the level of commitment from leaders to pursue goals? Relevance is also important. Energy management goals should be in line with a city’s overall vision. An appropriate goal enables short-term success and builds a foundation for long-term energy management. Finally, a goal exists within a time frame. Baseline and target years are commonly used to bound the time period over which progress is measured.

A city that considers the five SMART aspects is on its way to setting a reasonable and effective goal. As part of developing a goal for an individual city, it can be good to research the goals of peer cities. For example, Boston aims to reduce energy use by 20% by 2014, relative to a 2009 baseline. Alternatively, Austin aims to make all City of Austin facilities, fleets, and operations totally carbon-neutral by 2020.

Still need more help deciding on a resolution? How about a usage reduction goal? Luckily, our toolkit piece also presents five standardized and best-practice goal-setting platforms. Local governments that partner with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge pledge to reduce energy usage intensity across building stock by at least 20% over 10 years. Additionally, the Alliance to Save Energy’s Energy 2030 offers cities a roadmap to doubling the U.S. energy productivity by 2030, a big part of which involves energy efficiency. Using less energy to perform the same tasks? That seems like a pretty solid New Year’s resolution to me.