Conservation Culture: Nurture this Nature
Employees can make your energy-saving goals happen. Here are tips to foster an energy efficiency ethic.
“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right,” said Ford Motor Company founder Henry Ford. It’s an observation that applies to just about anything, including the goal of energy efficiency.
In the workplace, cutting energy costs requires an efficiency mindset among employees. How do you cultivate it? We asked Bruce Bremer, founder of Bremer Energy Consulting Services and the man who spent some 25 years running energy efficiency programs at Toyota’s 13 North American plants. “Energy efficiency needs to be built into the culture of an organization,” Bremer says.
At Toyota, new employees learned about energy efficiency starting with their company orientation. “We taught them what to look for,” Bremer recalls. And, since the lessons need to be repeated, other educational activities came into play, too.
To help workers understand how much energy daily activities consume, Bremer’s team posted key metrics for all to see on the manufacturing floor. Things shown via displays included the cost of all energy purchased to run the plant the month before, the cost per hour of energy used in the site, the amount of money wasted on weekends because people didn’t turn off equipment and more.
Bremer also says workers need to understand that energy efficiency efforts should extend beyond the big, visible projects to include small, personal actions. “People think, ‘this little piece of equipment that’s my responsibility is so small, what’s it going to matter if I turn it off?’ It’s all the little things that add up to meet the overall targets for reduction,” he says.
“It’s all the little things that add up to meet the overall targets for reduction.”
What’s more, it’s easy to show how those many small actions create big savings if you use a cloud-based software system to track performance over time. You could station a monitor in the plant or take screen shots to demonstrate how employees’ energy-use decisions influence your energy consumption and spend.
Plenty of organizations have quality initiatives, which generally focus not just on getting things right the first time, but also on continuous improvement. That’s the spirit with which Bremer approaches energy efficiency, too.
First, he says, make what you already have in place more efficient. “Many companies just jump into a project right away thinking, ‘We need to do some major energy reduction initiative to move our program forward,’” he explains. But, he says, big gains often can come from simply making many small changes.
In fact, in his role as a consultant Bremer says he really enjoys meeting with clients who claim they’ve already picked the low-hanging fruit of energy efficiency. “They’re missing the whole point of continuous improvement. No matter where you are, you can always do better.” Again, he notes, it comes back to tweaking activities in place to make them more efficient. For example, if you’re cooling the building with chillers, why not just open windows during cold weather?
Bremer also reminds people that quality equals savings. “If your quality is low, maybe you’ll have to produce more widgets because 10 per cent is scrap,” he says. “Think of the energy that’s being used to make that scrap. If your quality goes up, your energy use will go down.” According to Bremer, tying energy use into other key performance indicators such as quality, cost and productivity can often result in 10 to 20 per cent energy savings.
Quality equals savings. “If your quality is low, maybe you’ll have to produce more widgets because 10 per cent is scrap. Think of the energy that’s being used to make that scrap. If your quality goes up, your energy use will go down.
So, how do you get buy-in for such efforts? Bremer used “treasure hunts” at Toyota. “Say you’re going to have an energy audit of your site,” he says. “When I think about the word audit, it means someone is going to come in and tell me what to do. It’s usually taken very negatively.”
In contrast, a treasure hunt is where you pull in a cross-functional team of employees who then survey the site to identify energy-saving opportunities. When Bremer does these for clients, he usually conducts them over a three-day time span, has senior management participate and holds an employee meeting at the end to report on findings.
Bremer says the approach is successful because it harnesses the ideas of employees themselves, which fosters engagement and a sense of ownership for the energy-efficiency initiatives. He’s done about 40 of these treasure hunts since he started his consultancy six years ago, and he says companies generally adopt as much as 75 percent of the recommendations employees identify.
Overall, the hunts net between 5 per cent and 10 per cent energy savings for the company. Why does it work so well? Because you’re educating workers about what can be done to save energy and nurturing the mindset that energy efficiency is everyone’s responsibility. “Once you teach people that, things will change,” Bremer says. Why? Because now people understand that electricity usage matters, and they set their minds on reducing waste.
Measure your treasure
At Bruce Power Direct, our experience has proven how effective it is to show employees how successful their treasure hunt has been. To do that, you should be sure to collect a solid amount of energy consumption information before the hunt begins to establish a baseline. It’s best to collect 24 months of data to smooth out any weather or production variances if you can but, at the very least, try for 12 months of information. Translate that data into a simple metric like kWh/day as a solid reference point.
Then, continue to track that following the treasure hunt and routinely point out how much energy your employees’ efforts save; it will strengthen the continuous improvement program you’re going to implement after reading this great advice from Bruce Bremer.
Bruce Power Direct can help you use your energy data to “measure your treasure” and keep energy conservation efforts on the path of continuous improvement. Check out this short video tour of the Bruce Power Saver.