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How do we engage small businesses in deeper energy savings? Slipstream research team finds out

Are lighting savings the best we can do for small business customers? Slipstream research says no. Our research team dug into the Minnesota small business market and found diverse savings opportunities. These savings will help Minnesota programs pilot holistic savings in small buildings. Slipstream can build these measures into the design of our own small business offerings.

Before Jeannette LeZaks, Scott Hackel, Scott Schuetter and Andy Lick conducted this study funded by the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources through the Conservation Applied Research and Development (CARD) program, they got clear on what questions they would need to answer. First, they would look at what opportunities beyond lighting are available to the small commercial sector. Second, they would discover the best ways to increase participation in said opportunities. To find these answers, the research team conducted primary and secondary research on the Minnesota small commercial sector.

They expected to find plenty of opportunities outside lighting, but one thing did surprise them. “We were somewhat surprised at the number of businesses with residential-type heating and cooling systems, coupled with the fact that many business owners knew more about the utility offerings in the residential sector. This leads to an interesting opportunity to apply similar marketing channels for small businesses as you would residential heating measures,” said LeZaks. They also found that business owners/managers are often most motivated by non-energy benefits of energy investments – such as thermal comfort, visual and acoustic comfort, indoor air quality, maintenance and productivity. “So, it would make sense if you are trying to sell a small business program, to emphasize these co-benefits ahead of any energy benefits,” mentioned LeZaks.


Money and time top the list of issues that prevent businesses from adopting energy efficiency benefits (see table). “That’s why our program recommendations emphasized making it easy for potential participants to progress from low/no-cost measures to more capital-intensive measures. A streamlined, vertically-integrated program allows for it to stay nimble in the face of such a heterogeneous group of participants. Easy financing also helps,” said LeZaks.

The research team identified bundles of measures focused on specific areas that could lead to program offerings (i.e. thermostats and retail, gas and kitchen measures, etc.). “In all of these program areas it became clear from our conversations with owners that planning a customer journey is important to achieving holistic savings. This journey should begin with simple measures, progress to prescriptive measures with some cost to the owner and ultimately end in some holistic, possible custom retrofit work. With the right infrastructure, programs could use such progressions to achieve much deeper savings than current lighting-focused small business programs,” explained Hackel.

For more info on the findings and our recommendations, check out the webinar, fact sheet or final report.