Energy Conservation Program: Helping BC Hydro Earn Big Returns From Behavioural Change

This article tours Redbird Communication's current energy conservation campaign for BC Hydro. We talk about what worked and offer some behavioural change lessons and insights we learned while helping reduce power consumption on university campuses across BC. 

BC Hydro is the main electric utility supplier for 1.8 million residents of British Columbia, Canada. In recent years, the demand for electricity has risen. In addition to creating more hydroelectric facilities and plants, one of BC Hydro’s major strategies is to encourage residents to reduce their energy consumption.

A key part of this strategy involves BC Hydro helping its large corporate and commercial customers to reduce their energy usage. Universities, with their sprawling campuses and lab facilities, use large amounts of energy and Redbird Communications won a competitive bid to help develop a set of sustainability workshops, marketing materials, and power-saving campaigns.


behavioural change campaign example

Redbird is now working with eight universities, facilitating workshops and developing behaviour change action plans to conserve energy on campus. Tactics have included videos, prompts, posters, incentives, special events, contests, social media campaigns, establishing legacy projects, online tune-up tools, and a custom online group collaboration tool.

How we did it

Changing behaviour--why traditional ad campaigns don’t work

Traditional ad agencies typically use PR, TV and print ads, online and other media to influence behaviour. Trouble is, everyone knows they should turn off the lights, shut their lab equipment down, and save the polar bears. It’s harder, though, to turn sustainability awareness into daily actions.

Redbird works with a lot of health and sustainability clients who need more than just awareness. Over the years, we have found that the traditional media approach often only has a limited effect on changing long-term behaviour.

energy conservation BC

Pledges, prompts, norms, and friendly competitions are some of the best ways to change behaviour. These tactics work because they tap into both individual and group psychology, boosting personal and social commitment.

Using these behaviour change tactics produces a much more powerful effect than creating a witty ad or launching an expensive TV commercial.

For BC Hydro, we use the following behaviour change tactics to help students and faculty reduce their campus energy consumption.

Behaviour change tactics


A pledge is a promise to do something, and once people make a promise, particularly to themselves, they do try to keep it. Many of our institutions have invited students to pledge to change their energy consumption behaviour. For example, “I pledge to turn the thermostat down, and wear a sweater,” or “I pledge to use natural light whenever possible.” 


Prompts help to remind people to act. For example, we created glow-in-the-dark decals for light switches. These decals read “Turn it off” in the daylight, and glow a “thank you” in the dark, when someone turns off the lights.


Human beings are pack animals, and we like to fit in with our neighbours. So our campaigns work to integrate a culture of energy conservation into campus life. Several institutions held ‘Ugly Sweater’ weeks, to make energy conservation visible and popular. Many also use buttons to show solidarity to an action, cause or campaign.


Competitions really drive results in behavioural change campaigns. At several universities we have helped create energy challenges, often having the occupants of campus buildings compete to see who can use the least amount of electricity over a set period of time.


Incentives keep people motivated. Our campaigns use small prizes to increase participation, and they’re tailored to the target audience. For university students, this often means gift certificates for food, books, or bus passes.


Feedback helps us create better campaigns and gives the audience ownership over their commitment to change. Feedback can consist of web-based, real-time monitoring of energy usage in a competition, or regular updates on progress toward a target. 


Fun is an important element of behavioural change campaigns, whether it be gamification, fresh air entertainment, or putting a basketball hoop over a garbage can to reduce littering.

Successful outcomes of BC Hydro’s WCA Program

Redbird’s behaviour change workshop, sustainability strategies, customized campaigns, creative concepts, graphic design, and customer support helped BC Hydro earn some big energy returns at eight British Columbia universities. Here are a few examples of unique ideas and results generated in some of the campaigns:

At the BC Institute of Technology, workshop participants developed a campaign built around a ‘Light Savers’ theme. A building competition, video, website, and photo exhibit were created to communicate their energy savings initiatives.

Capilano University, a mid-sized post-secondary institution in British Columbia, also saw great results. Our behaviour change workshops, creative campaign ideas, and strategic guidance assisted participants with a very successful energy conservation program.

Highlights included:

  • The Great Light Switch Out – Incandescent bulbs were replaced with highly efficient LED ones. We designed logos and posters for the campaign, and the bulbs came with custom designed fact sheets.
  • “Get ur fleece on” – This campaign focused on exchanging space heaters for fleece blankets, to reduce the use of electricity.
  • Information resources – Redbird also designed attention-grabbing signage for an informational kiosk on campus.



Simon Fraser University wanted to reduce the energy consumption in their labs. With Redbird’s help, SFU’s WCA participants created energy reduction competitions, a phantom load measurement tool, and a Green Labs guide.

Taking this one step further to ensure long-term behaviour change, they are developing a “Green Labs” manual as part of a legacy commitment for the initiative.

UBC’s “Shut the Sash” contest, which also encouraged students to close the vent sash in their labs, pitted different labs and buildings against each other, all racing to see who could achieve the biggest energy reduction from a simple action.

case study of energy conservation program

After providing a sustainability training session to building occupants, the University of Victoria used the innovative ‘Pulse Energy Dashboard’ to track the progress of different campus buildings, in a dynamic and real-time energy contest. UVic’s “slugfest” between buildings created great buzz and participation from students and staff.

Thompson Rivers University went one step further by soliciting occupants of several building to participate in a contest that tracked the energy consumption of the occupants at home and and at the university.

Vancouver Island University held a successful Ugly Sweater Week, and hosted an expert speaker; and the University of the Fraser Valley created a ‘lights out’ video.

Association with other sustainability initiatives

Often energy management is part of a larger sustainability office.  Redbird encourages the inclusion of all sustainability initiatives to reinforce socially conscious practice. Individuals who take the time to practise composting are more likely to continue good behaviour around energy consumption.

Best Practices for Campaigns

Thinking of launching a behaviour change campaign in your company or organization? Here are a few of the best practices we’ve learned.

Think beyond the ad

If you want someone to act, usually an advertisement isn’t enough. A great ad might make you look twice, or consider a product the next time you are shopping, but to really change behaviour you need to go deeper.

When Redbird works with companies, governments, and organizations to create sustainability programs, we always start with input from the audience. They help create the campaigns. This gives them ownership and involvement. This commitment also helps to make sure that they follow through with their pledges and move from consideration to action.

Email doesn’t engage stakeholders

With large organizations you will need to get input from multiple stakeholders. However, early on in our work for BC Hydro we encountered a problem in using email to coordinate and roll out corporate sustainability campaigns and programs. Email just isn’t dynamic enough – group discussions turned into endless cc’ing. Before long, the conversation went silent and it was difficult to share and implement new tactics.

We solved this with Electricus ( Redbird created a secure private network to engage and connect universities across BC, helping them to better share ideas and learn from each other.

Electricus is an online collaboration tool built specifically to help connect multiple stakeholders around a common issue. It makes it possible for teams to collaborate without email--and increases the participation and momentum of corporate initiatives such as energy reduction.

With Electricus, each university could create their own private discussion group. There, they could share photos, files, or documents with each other, post tips and lessons learned to the group, or chat privately with a team member.

Electricus was built also for collaboration regardless of geography. So while, for example, the UBC campus had their own private group, they could also learn and engage with any of the other eight post-secondary institutions. As the program grows, this will lead to faster results and a sense of shared success, all eight institutions working together to help reduce their energy.

It will also help to organize and keep the different programs on track with checklists and team reminders.

Contact us to use Electricus in your own sustainability program or municipal campaign.  

Learn quickly from mistakes and share success

Early on, some campuses seemed to have more success than others. Redbird developed a “sharing successes” newsletter, helping to cross-pollinate ideas and best practices among participating universities.

Electricus will also play a key role here, providing a forum for successful universities to share what they did and what mistakes to avoid. For example, if one campus received low responses for an energy-saving contest, they could reach out to a campus that achieved high participation to share notes.

Contests help everybody win

Contests bring together the stakeholders and create a collective sense of purpose, as well as apply social pressure to adopt the new behaviour.

Savings beyond energy

Over the past two years, the institutions Redbird has worked with have saved millions of kilowatt hours of electricity, and have seen their energy bills drop by many thousands of dollars. They’ve raised the consciousness of students, staff, and faculty, and have put legacy elements in place to ensure the longevity of their programs.

Want us to help your corporation or organization?

If you would like to find out how Redbird can help you raise awareness and change behaviour on your next sustainability or health promotion campaign, just get in touch. We’ll identify the biggest opportunities for you to see some measurable results and provide all the necessary behaviour change workshops, market research, planning, web development, design, PR, and branding.

Our agency services include:

  • Behaviour Change Workshop facilitation
  • Mid-term planning sessions
  • Ideas & brainstorming
  • Messaging & branding
  • Graphic design
  • Web development
  • Research & writing
  • Strategic planning & direction


Get started here