At Yahoo! headquarters, we recently installed an interactive touch screen next to our corporate cafeteria. The Green Screen, as we fondly call it, tracks our electricity consumption by building over time. Employees can compare one building against another and translate it into kilowatt-hours, dollars, or (for those who want something more tangible) laptop-hours or compact florescent lightbulb-hours.
We don’t expect that this gadget will drastically cut our energy consumption – our campus is already quite efficient – but we do hope it will educate people, and tap into the power of information to change behavior.
You understand this phenomenon if you know any hybrid Prius owners – most of them have become obsessive (and competitive) about their miles per gallon, which is displayed prominently on their dashboard panels. Just listen to them talk to one another: “I got forty.” “I got forty-five driving in the city.” “I average fifty.” Meanwhile, with oil over $100 a barrel and gas prices approaching four dollars a gallon, non-hybrid drivers are beginning to alter their habits for financial reasons.
I’m hoping that we can cultivate a similar level of competitive bean-counting on Yahoo!s campus: “Building A beat building D today.” Engineers are notoriously competitive when it comes to numbers. With electricity rates in California among the highest in the country, the simple act of making electricity consumption visible can make a huge difference.
On a larger level, that’s part of what Yahoo! accomplishes in our commitment to be carbon neutral. We measure, and offset, our carbon footprint – all of our air travel, all of our employee commuting, all of our facilities around the globe. Once we have a number associated with our environmental impact, we have something measurable to work against. And, through our offset purchases, we associate a price with that number. When the head of facilities in London calls me and tells me that only five employees out of an office of hundreds drive to work on a regular basis, I can tell them what that translates to in terms of carbon, and direct savings to Yahoo!.
Last year, for Earth Week, co-founders Jerry Yang and David Filo issued a challenge to Yahoo! employees – reduce your collective energy consumption by twenty percent for the week, and we will sumo wrestle on the grass lawn. More employees carpooled. They eliminated meat from their diets. They used less papers and turned lights off earlier. They turned into obsessive bean counters in pursuit of a common goal. And they were rewarded for success in a uniquely Yahoo! manner.
If you can measure it, you can manage it. And make a positive impact while doing it.