PeopleCube Says Office Scheduling Software Can Slow Global Warming
Here’s a new excuse for staying at home on a workday: You may be helping to reduce your company’s carbon footprint.
Framingham, MA-based PeopleCube makes scheduling software that’s used for everything from deploying tugboats in Seattle Harbor to sending Metropolitan Life insurance agents out to meet prospects. About five years ago, according to CEO John Anderson, the company began selling its system as a way to allocate “hoteling” space inside companies where mobile workers might need a desk just for one day. (In Europe the practice is known by the more descriptive term “hot desking.”)
Then PeopleCube engineers realized that they could link the hot-desk scheduler into office buildings’ environmental management systems, so that lighting, heating, or cooling could be adjusted to comfortable levels on floors where the hoteling space was filling up and turned down to save energy on floors with lots of empty cubicles. And now PeopleCube is partnering with a U.K. consultancy called Building Sustainability Ltd. (BSL) to add a “carbon dashboard” to the scheduler, so that facilities managers can see exactly how much carbon dioxide is not being emitted into the atmosphere thanks to their scheduling efforts.
It’s a case study in how resource management technologies that companies pursue primarily to save money can also contribute to efforts to blunt global climate change—and how the companies that create and adopt those technologies can themselves acquire a green sheen. “By doing office hoteling, you’re moving into a green area right there, by reducing the amount of real estate you have to heat or cool, which reduces your carbon footprint,” says Anderson. “We’ve been helping companies do that for years—but we never messaged it as green.”
PeopleCube’s Resource Scheduler is already used by 110,000 employees at General Motors, 80,000 at Procter & Gamble, and thousands more at other big companies to search for and reserve physical resources such as conference rooms, hoteling space, and teleconferencing facilities. It can be accessed over the Web or through calendaring applications like Microsoft Outlook and Exchange. The software includes an application programming interface that companies can use to send schedule information directly to a building’s (or an entire campus’s) HVAC system.
“Say you’ve scheduled a room from 8:00 to 10:00, and I’ve scheduled it from 3:00 to 5:00,” explains Anderson. “From 10:00 to 3:00, the system, based on the schedule, can make sure that the heat is off and the lights are down and you’re getting better energy efficiency out of that space. At ten minutes before 3:00, it fires the heat back up and the lights come on and the room is ready.”
Last year PeopleCube began to think about ways to help customers document the amount of energy they were saving (and, indirectly, the carbon dioxide emissions they were helping to avert) by using Resource Scheduler to manage HVAC and lighting systems. They knew the tricky part would be coming up with ways to establish a baseline—an informed estimate of the amount of power, fuel oil, etc. that a customer would have used if the scheduling system hadn’t kicked in. “If you don’t know what your baseline is, there’s no way to report how much you’re reducing energy use,” says Anderson. (Establishing accurate baseline methodologies also happens to be a key part of the business at EnerNOC, a Boston company we profiled in February that pays companies to join “demand reduction” pools, groups whose power usage can be decreased remotely when electrical utilities are short on supply.)
PeopleCube started to build its own benchmarking and energy-tracking application, but then learned about BSL, a small energy consulting company in Surrey, England, that was “building essentially the same thing we were, except they were 12 months ahead of us,” Anderson says. BSL’s Footprint Tracker software is organized around a “carbon dashboard” that displays consumption of energy and water in real time, energy savings and carbon emissions reductions as compared to a customized baseline, and historical trends.
The companies formed an agreement to collaborate, and over the next two months, says Anderson, PeopleCube will integrate the Footprint Tracker into its Resource Scheduler and begin to roll out the combined system with pilot customers. “We’re a full-scale company and BSL is a development shop,” Anderson says. “By marrying our assets we’re going to hit the market 12 to 18 months sooner than either of us could have on our own.”
PeopleCube’s customers have been able to save 10 to 25 percent on energy costs for facilities managed using Resource Scheduler, says Anderson. Now they’ll also be able to translate that savings into a measure of carbon emissions averted. Unlike their U.K. and European counterparts, most U.S. companies aren’t yet under any legal obligation to demonstrate emissions reductions—but that day may come soon. And meanwhile, workplace carbon tracking can increase environmental awareness among managers and employees, while also helping to boost a company’s green credentials.
“Obviously, if companies are saving energy they are reducing their carbon footprint, so there are good ecological messages they can send out to the world,” says Anderson. “There is a huge return on investment and also a social and environmental impact. We think it’s a win-win around the table.”