From Transformers 3 to EDF Climate Corps: The Mack Trucks Plant has seen it all

By: Rohini Sankapal, 2011 EDF Climate Corps fellow at Mack Trucks (Volvo North American Trucks), MBA Candidate at University of San Diego

Behemoth shiny machines in various stages of assembly now cover the shop floor where the Megatron robot of Transformers 3 was once assembled.  It’s the Macungie, PA plant of Mack Trucks, a subsidiary of Volvo North American Trucks. This is where I’ve spent my summer as an EDF Climate Corps fellow, strategizing a sustainable energy efficiency roadmap across the sprawling 850,000-square-foot facility. I’m also quantifying the financial and environmental impact of this energy efficiency roadmap and positioning investments for prioritization.

After conducting daily walk-throughs of the ISO 14001 certified facility, I’ve realized that the company has already achieved quite a bit in its efficiency efforts. The facility is in line with Volvo’s commitment to move towards carbon neutrality. In fact, previous energy efficiency initiatives are spearheading up to 34% reduction in energy consumption here. Nonetheless, energy efficiency is all about continuous improvement. There is never a dearth of new opportunities waiting to be uncovered to optimize operational strategies and savings on operational expenses.

The hissing noises from compressor air leaks, low temperatures in office spaces, forklifts charging inefficiently, bathroom lights consistently left on, motors without speed drivers – these are indications of what we call “low hanging fruit.” And “low hanging fruit” means opportunity for even more energy savings. This fruit might not be immediately visible from studying previous energy studies or reports. But by rolling up my sleeves and taking a hands-on approach, I’ve been able to sniff it out.

I’ve also found success in simply being an enthusiastic listener. Most of my interactions and information support have been with the visionary EHS Manager and the Plant Facilities Supervisor here. Through discussions with these folks, I’ve been able to quickly understand the organizational ethos, take projects forward by eliminating dead ends, and optimize my short 10-week period here. Plus, I’ve found some valuable nuggets of information from the many of the most unlikely places. A handy man talking about resetting thermostats, a janitor cleaning up office space, a vendor handling preventive maintenance, a DOE team chatting about past experiences have all offered bits of crucial information spread across a large spectrum – clues to those just-beneath-the-surface savings.

Lastly, through quantifying my observations and analyzing the feasibility of projects, I realized how big a role qualitative factors play in the actual implementation of such projects. The successful execution of my proposed roadmap will depend on how closely I collaborate between various stakeholders and work in tandem to cater to their requirements. Strategizing for individual silos will not work – it has to be holistic approach. It is vital for me to identify arenas where stake-holders can be catered to, in order to ensure higher project implementation. During the first few weeks of my fellowship, we applied for utility rebates for efficiency projects spread across past two years. This clearly indicates that the entire business ecosystem now works cohesively towards being energy efficient.

With a few more weeks of learning ahead of me, I am excited to see how my analysis shapes up along with a plethora of new experiences. Now, if only they’d let me drive that Megatron…

EDF Climate Corps matches trained students from leading business schools with companies to develop practical, actionable energy efficiency plans. Sign up to receive emails about EDF Climate Corps, including regular blog posts by our fellows. You can also visit our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter to get regular updates about this project.


A Process for Gauging a Green Team’s Movement Toward its Goals

By: Sarah Meyers, 2011 EDF Climate Corps Fellow at CA Technologies, MBA Candidate at MIT Sloan School of Management

When CA Technologies asked if I would work with its burgeoning green team, I was tickled pink.  There are numerous advantages to having green teams in Corporate America, including to:

1)      Help reduce costs and the environmental impact of companies

2)      Increase employee engagement and retention

3)      Create opportunities for developing leadership skills

4)      Enhance company reputation and atmosphere

5)      Advance senior management’s strategies*

The first green team meeting coincided with my first day of work.  Around an oval table, employees discussed what they cared about, what was frustrating and what they would like to do differently at their facility.  The group decided to focus on three initiatives related to recycling, e-waste and energy reduction.  Each person walked away from the table with action items, and I was tasked with focusing on metrics.

With full access to the company’s utility bills and a Kill-A-Watt, I calculated all kinds of metrics: electricity consumption per day, dollars spent per kWh, lbs of waste per employee per year, energy wasted when computers were not put in sleep mode overnight, etc.   If there was a unit, I wanted to compute a number for it.  However, there was an underlying problem.  How could I use these metrics to represent the success of three green team initiatives?  For example, after green team members decided that they wanted to improve recycling in their facility, I found that by switching to a new vendor with a more robust recycling program, the company could save up to $7,700 per year.  But did this represent success of the recycling initiative, or of its potential?  I had no problems with access to data or how to analyze it, but I struggled with how to make the numbers meaningful.

By luck, I met a CA Technologies employee who was instrumental in unscrambling my challenge.  Hiren Dalal, an expert in organizational change and process re-engineering, started by rephrasing my questions:

  • How do we decide what we need to measure in order to reach our goals?
  • How do we know that compiled metrics measure movement towards our goals?
  • How do we know that we have met our goals?

I came to realize that the key was not to focus on computing numerical facts and trying to make sense of their meaning. It was to start from the other end: explicitly establish goals first. Writing high level goals allowed me to focus on the most salient issues.  Goals needed to determine the metrics, not the other way around.

After establishing goals, the next step involved focusing on yet another key question, “What would demonstrate movement towards our goals?” Posing this question served two purposes.  First, it enabled more specificity of the goals. “What do we mean by success?  a best practice? a challenge? an expense?  a benefit?”  More significantly, however, the answers to these questions suggested potential metrics!   In responding each question, I could recommend a measurable answer, and in turn this list of answers could determine the set of metrics associated with each initiative.  I tried to answer my questions imaging a perfect scenario with access to any and all information.  Afterwards, if the information was unavailable, I could consider what may represent a suitable “substitute” metric.

For example, what were the goals of the pilot Green Teams at CA Technologies?  After some discussion, it was determined that one of the goals of the Green Team was to generate “culture change.”  What is culture change and what does it look like?  We agreed that culture change involved awareness, education, contribution and collaboration.  How could we know that we were affecting these things?  We could look at the participation rate, an awareness quotient, number of involved employees, hours worked by Green Team members, and document stories related to changes in behaviors (an “informal” metric).

Thus, with relative ease, a list of relevant metrics was the output of a process of questioning.


*Adapted from Net Impact Conference Call “Launching and Supporting a Green Team” on July 14, 2011

EDF Climate Corps matches trained students from leading business schools with companies to develop practical, actionable energy efficiency plans. Sign up to receive emails about EDF Climate Corps, including regular blog posts by our fellows. You can also visit our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter to get regular updates about this project.

Avon’s Four Steps to Conducting Business with a Higher Purpose

By: Kevin Wooster, 2011 EDF Climate Corps Fellow at Avon Products, MBA/MS Candidate at University of Michigan’s Erb Institute

Like many companies today, Avon Products has embraced the belief that business should have a higher purpose than simple profit. Since its beginning in 1886, Avon has held that a business’s core purpose is, as its founder David H. McConnell once said, “[to contribute] to the well-being of society and the environment in which it functions.”

Along with this belief comes an imperative to conduct business accordingly. Yet, doing so seems to have become increasingly difficult. The competitiveness of global markets and the importance of maintaining low operating costs have made conducting business responsibly all the more challenging.

However, overcoming these obstacles and succeeding as a responsible business is indeed possible. And, as an EDF Climate Corps fellow, my work with Avon this summer has been aimed at helping Avon do just that. Essentially, there are four steps Avon follows that are both key to its success, and easily adoptable by other companies.

Step 1: Understand

First it is vital to understand the social and environmental impacts of the company’s operations in order to make informed decisions about deploying the company’s resources. To this end, it is important for facilities to report key performance indicators, such as energy use, which will enable the company’s leadership to understand both the intensity and aggregate nature of its impacts. In order to gain a truly comprehensive perspective this needs to be done locally, regionally and globally.

Step 2: Prioritize and Analyze

Having ascertained the impacts of the company’s operations, efforts can then be prioritized to identify and evaluate potential investment projects. Facilities which show the highest intensity of resource use per unit of production or square foot of facility-space may represent the most significant opportunities for investment into cost-saving, impact-reducing projects. Likewise, investing in facilities located in areas in which resources such as electricity or waste disposal cost more may also lead to substantial cost savings.

Step 3: Take Action

Once opportunities and projects have been identified and evaluated across the company, the company’s leadership can then looks at the available investment capital and optimize its employment to accomplish the company’s objectives.

Step 4: Repeat

For this process to truly work, it’s essential that process doesn’t stop at Step 3. Markets and business are naturally ever-changing and, as a result, it’s essential that assessing impacts, prioritizing efforts and analysis, and taking action are integrated into the normal business cycle. Otherwise, opportunities are likely to be missed and the impacts of conducting business are likely to grow.

Avon’s approach may be useful to help other companies succeed in reducing their impact and increasing their benefit to society. In as much as it does, sharing this approach helps Avon fulfill its objective of contributing to “the well-being of society and the environment in which it functions.”

EDF Climate Corps matches trained students from leading business schools with companies to develop practical, actionable energy efficiency plans. Sign up to receive emails about EDF Climate Corps, including regular blog posts by our fellows. You can also visit our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter to get regular updates about this project.

Seeing the Light at Facebook: Top three lessons on energy-efficient lighting design

By: Naveen Lakshmipathy, 2011 EDF Climate Corps fellow at Facebook, MBA/MS Candidate at University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business

As I enter the first completed building of Facebook’s brand-new office campus in Menlo Park, CA, I’m greeted by a scene that feels fresh but distinctly familiar.  An exposed steel beam punctuates a hallway.  Ventilation ducts and ethernet cables run across the ceiling in full view, like veins and neural pathways.  Purple knit beanbag chairs sit with other funky furnishings on concrete floors.  Open-plan office spaces enable conversation and collaboration with an easy swivel of chairs.  Yes, these are unmistakable hallmarks of Facebook, a company whose office design is an extension (and enabler) of its culture: social, young, scrappy, innovative and unfinished.

I’m part of a team of three EDF Climate Corps fellows at Facebook this summer looking at ways to make the company’s new one-million-square-foot office campus more energy efficient.  One of my responsibilities is lighting.  The Energy Information Administration estimates that lighting consumes approximately 21% of the energy used in U.S. commercial buildings, making lighting a vital component of any company’s energy efficiency strategy.

Facebook’s goals for its lighting system are simple: make efficient use of daylight, lighting controls, and efficient fixtures to save energy and keep employees comfortable, while preserving the company’s unfinished, garage-like office aesthetic.  I’ve learned a number of important lessons about energy-efficient lighting design while at Facebook.  Here are my top three:

1.       You don’t have to compromise between design and efficiency…as long as you plan ahead.

The best way to incorporate energy efficiency in lighting and other systems without sacrificing design goals is through integrated design.  In integrated design, people involved in different aspects of building design – from architects to engineers to energy efficiency experts – sit down at the same table in a collaborative, iterative process.  This ensures that all factors are considered from the start.  Indeed, the earlier energy efficiency is taken into account, the greater potential there is to achieve significant, cost-effective results.  If energy efficiency considerations are an afterthought, the results are likely to be poorly integrated into overall design objectives and more expensive to implement.

Where can integrated design help Facebook?  Despite the dizzyingly fast pace of development at Facebook’s Menlo Park campus, the company can take an approach that incorporates energy efficiency expertise into the overall design process.  This can ensure, for example, that walls and ceilings are painted appropriate colors to reflect light where it is optimal to do so.  As Climate Corps fellows, we are encouraging Facebook to take the integrated design approach.

2.       Be sure to have lighting “control narratives,” and test against them.

If you want to effectively use lighting controls such as occupancy and daylight sensors to modulate light levels and optimize energy efficiency, it is important to articulate what lighting designers call a “control narrative”:  a concise statement that describes how you want your lighting system to behave.  Good control narratives ensure that building occupants and operators know how systems are supposed to function and that controls contractors can calibrate and test them.

How can control narratives promote energy efficiency?  Take this case in point: Facebook’s offices are peppered with “cozies” – tiny six-by-eight rooms intended for small meetings and individual phone calls.  These cozies are controlled by occupancy sensors that should operate under the following control narrative:

When an occupant enters the cozy, the lights should automatically turn on to the 50-percent brightness level.  The occupant can manually adjust the lights to full brightness if desired.  When the room is vacated, the lights should turn off within five minutes (the minimum setting allowed by the sensor). 

At least, this is how the control system is supposed to operate.   On our first walk-through of the new building, it was easy to notice that many of the cozies did not operate this way.  When we pulled off the face of the occupancy sensor and checked its settings, we realized that many sensors were set to turn off after ten minutes, not five.  We also realized that the sensors had other, energy-saving functions that were not being utilized at all, such as a “walk-through” setting to prevent false triggering when people enter momentarily but don’t stay.  (Perhaps re-adjusting these sensors could be a project for a future Facebook Hackathon?)

Developing and testing control narratives is an important practice to maximize daylight use as well, by controlling when and where lights dim or turn off in response to natural light.  As EDF Climate Corps fellows, we’re verifying the existing control narratives in Facebook’s new offices, and promoting more energy-efficient control narratives where feasible.

3.       Productivity and occupant comfort are important arguments for efficient design.

Efficient lighting systems not only minimize energy use, but can also improve occupant comfort. As another EDF Climate Corps fellow at Facebook pointed out in her recent blog post, research shows a positive relationship between workplace comfort and productivity.  Numerous studies indicate that effective use of daylight in particular improves productivity.  Conversely, incorrect lighting design choices can lead to work environments that are over- or underlit, have excessive glare, or are otherwise uncomfortable for workers.  If a lighting design improvement could reduce eyestrain and help every employee be productive for even 15 more minutes per day, the combined effect at a company like Facebook is huge.  At the Menlo Park campus, we’re searching for ways that daylight can be used more effectively to minimize the need for artificial lighting and improve the overall office environment.  Save energy, save money, and increase productivity – it’s a win-win-win!

EDF Climate Corps matches trained students from leading business schools with companies to develop practical, actionable energy efficiency plans. Sign up to receive emails about EDF Climate Corps, including regular blog posts by our fellows. You can also visit our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter to get regular updates about this project.

EDF News Brief: Highlights of our recent work

By Will Bucher, EDF Intern, Corporate Partnerships

Understandably, hectic schedules and information overflow makes it easy for news to sometimes slip through the cracks. This is why we want to recap some of the exciting things we’ve been working on over the last week at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

EDF Re-asserts Legal Effort to Protect Clean Air

Following a series of delays in release of the ozone standard, several environmental groups including EDF have filed a motion with the DC Circuit Court to compel action from the EPA. The motion requested that the court establish a deadline for EPA to complete its reconsideration of the 2008 ozone standards because the EPA’s national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for ozone do not comply with the Clean Air Act’s mandated standards. Furthermore, the motion asserts that the Agency’s excessive and inexcusable delay in reconsidering such standards frustrates the Court’s prior orders.

For the full post, and a more detailed summary of why the motion was warranted, click here.

Smart Grid Plans by California Utilities Get Passing ‘Mid-Term’ Grades According to EDF Evaluation Team

The smart grid plans to modernize California’s electricity grid have comprehensive visions and coherent strategies, but lack commitments to measure and verify progress on delivering benefits set by state clean energy and energy efficiency laws. These plans were graded by EDF energy experts and consultants, and SDG&E and SCE got the highest cumulative grades with a ‘B-‘; while PG&E’s plan earned a ‘C.’ The scores reflect whether plans chart a course to achieve four stated objectives: radically increase California’s reliance on clean energy and flexible demand; empower consumers; create a platform for new energy technologies and services; and reduce the electric system's impact on air, water and land.

For the original new release, click here.

EDF Posits School Restoration as a way to improve Economy, Education and Protection from Natural Disasters

A proposed initiative in congress, the FAST act, would focus on improving energy efficiency, air quality, and building safety at the nearly 100,000 school buildings scattered across America, and the program could create as many as 500,000 new positions in the construction industry.

Such repairs are long overdue. More than 50 percent of the educational facilities used by youngsters in the United States were constructed over four decades ago, according to the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities and many of these facilities are plagued with mold, equipped with inadequate handicap access, and hampered by other limitations.

Further, after events like the Joplin tornado and Hurricane Katrina, schools must often double as shelters, triage centers, or coordination points for aid distribution. In times of crisis, they become communal places to gather resources, share important information, and instill hope. For these reasons, it is important to consider ways to improve school storm resilience in all American communities.

For the full blog post, click here.

Ending the Battle Between Planet and Profit: Fellow at Washington Gas shows a company can focus on both

By: Andrew Seal, EDF Climate Corps Fellow at Washington Gas, 2012 MBA Candidate at George Washington University’s GW School of Business

The leading companies that participate in EDF Climate Corps are already very good at what they do. They have become successful by focusing on the core fundamentals that deal directly with their central operations. Perhaps paradoxically, this highlights the opportunity for EDF Climate Corps fellows to optimize peripheral systems with energy efficiency projects that cut costs, mitigate environmental risk and enhance a firm’s return on equity.

One example is my host company this summer, Washington Gas. Washington Gas has been providing safe, reliable natural gas service to its customers since President James K. Polk was in office. The company has paid dividends on common stock for nearly 160 years and has increased that dividend for the past 34 consecutive years. Yet, in just a few weeks, the company has identified energy efficiency projects that will save hundreds of thousands of dollars in net operational costs while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions by several hundred metric tons annually. These projects include:

  • Adjusting seasonal temperature set points for periods when buildings are unoccupied
  • Replacing obsolete industrial and commercial lighting with new, more efficient technologies
  • Installing daylight and motion sensors in order to integrate passive design concepts

As such leading companies increasingly realize the need for resource stewardship, and as shareholder value increasingly begins to be shaped by the triple bottom line (people, planet, profits), EDF Climate Corps fellows and all champions of Clean Technology solutions can use the following strategies to create lasting value:

  1. Be inquisitive and personally engage the spectrum of stakeholders. One of the most challenging – and exciting – parts of the Clean Technology field is that success depends on a multidisciplinary approach. No one person or department has cornered the market on great ideas.
  2. Use data driven, expert vetted and reasonable assumptions. All capital budgeting processes require some element of conjecture and energy efficiency projects are no exception. However, cash flow is often more stable and predictable and, therefore, may be subject to a lower hurdle rate.
  3. Develop quantifiable, actionable and well researched projects. Clean Technology development faces a variety of challenges that any emerging industry experiences during its infancy stage, but tangible and substantial economic value can be realized through discernment and due diligence.

In the words of one of my Clean Technology mentors, Greg Kats [PDF], “the U.S. is the Saudi Arabia of energy efficiency.” Through Climate Corps, EDF’s strategy of “finding the ways that work” is realized tactically – by demonstrating that efficient energy solutions and a shift to sustainable strategies offer promising opportunities to preserve the environment and stimulate economic growth.

EDF News Brief: Highlights of our recent work

By Will Bucher, EDF Intern, Corporate Partnerships

Understandably, hectic schedules and information overflow makes it easy for news to sometimes slip through the cracks. This is why we want to recap some of the exciting things we’ve been working on over the last week at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

EDF Praises First-Ever National Fuel Standards for Trucks and Buses

Tuesday morning EDF praised the Fuel Standards released by the white house as a giant first step towards creating energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly commercial vehicles. It is estimated that these standards will Reduce oil consumption by more than 22 billion gallons, save truck owners as much as $73,000, accrue more than $50 billion in net benefits from fuel savings and cut carbon dioxide pollution by 270 million metric tons.

For more details about the standards and their benefits to Americans go to EDF’s Clean Trucks website.

EDF's Chief Oceans Scientist Doug Rader Featured for Work on Coastal Protection

This weekend science and technology reporter Tyler Dukes wrote about EDF's Chief Oceans Scientist Dr. Doug Rader's work to protect North Carolina's costal waters. Dukes shares how Dr. Rader has spent his career helping to shape coastal policy that addresses the needs of both marine life and of fishermen, as well as others who rely on the ocean for their livelihoods. As Dr. Rader puts it, he develops a policy that works for both "people and critters."

For the article, click here.

A Changing Role for Government: EDF Deputy Director Andy Darrell Suggests a New Direction for U.S. Clean Energy Policy in the Wake of Spending Cuts

Tuesday’s debt deal makes it clear that whatever it is that you may want government to spend money on, there will likely be less money to go around in the future, but that doesn't mean the government should get out of the clean energy business. It’s time to rethink government’s role in the clean energy marketplace. Whether or not it has money to spend, governments at all levels can do a lot to build a robust American market for clean energy. Andy Darrell proposes that while U.S. governments may not be able to directly fund projects, they can help direct policy by facilitating innovation in the private sector, leading by example by cutting their own energy waste, and open the energy markets to truly free competition.

For the full post, click here.

Lessons from the Corps: Influencing Corporate Decision-Makers

By Andrew Mulherkar, Intern, Corporate Partnership Program, EDF

Energy efficiency represents a trillion dollar resource for the U.S. economy. In a perfect world, these numbers would speak for themselves. In the real world, Climate Corps fellows do.

After identifying energy efficiency opportunities and evaluating the potential savings, our fellows often face the difficult task of convincing companies to invest. Effective communication is critical to their success.  To point the fellows in the right direction, we turned to Mike Walker of Beacon Consultant Networks Inc. Speaking to fellows as an expert on influencing corporate decision makers, Walker left us with three key suggestions:

1.  Transform actions, not attitudes. Changing a mind doesn’t always translate into changing a bulb. While we may believe that attitude drives action, research suggests that the reverse is true. To effectively engage decision-makers toward energy efficiency, it’s necessary to offer easy next steps and to remove barriers to action. What does this look like in practice? Rather than asking employees to turn off lights, install a programmable timer that automatically shuts off lighting after work hours.

2. Don’t assume energy efficiency will sell itself. Most corporate decision-makers focus exclusively on the mission of their business. An energy efficiency project may possess the golden trinity of a low investment, high return, and short payback, but even this doesn’t guarantee action. It’s critical to use sufficient marketing resources to sell energy efficiency investments, while also working to increase benefits and eliminate barriers for stakeholders.

3. Speak the appropriate language. For a corporate audience, this requires knowing the ins and outs of NPV, ROI, and the like. Business decision-makers respond to data. Emotional appeals may motivate consumer behavior, but business decisions generally require enough levels of discussion and approval to remove any considerations that aren’t backed by numbers. This includes good PR, which is almost never sufficient in motivating companies to act. Developing a concise business case for energy efficiency investments is therefore essential.

The good news is that energy efficiency projects often do meet investment criteria—they just need strong advocates. And  EDF Climate Corps fellows are here to help.

EDF Climate Corps matches trained students from leading business schools with companies to develop practical, actionable energy efficiency plans. Sign up to receive emails about EDF Climate Corps, including regular blog posts by our fellows. You can also visit our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter to get regular updates about this project.

Remembering Ray

The world has lost a true business leader and sustainability pioneer.  Ray Anderson’s vision that business can and should solve environmental challenges, not create them is one that EDF shares and champions.  Just a few years ago, Ray joined the entire EDF team for our annual staff retreat.  As was his tradition, he finished his remarks by reading an original poem written by one of his employees at Interface titled “Tomorrow’s Child.”  Just like everyone that crossed paths with Ray, we were inspired and energized by his words, vision and accomplishments.  We still are and promise to continue to work hard to make this vision a reality.

Tomorrow’s Child


© Glenn Thomas

Without a name; an unseen face
and knowing not your time nor place
Tomorrow’s Child, though yet unborn,
I met you first last Tuesday morn.

A wise friend introduced us two,
and through his shining point of view
I saw a day that you would see;
a day for you, but not for me

Knowing you has changed my thinking,
for I never had an inkling
That perhaps the things I do
might someday, somehow, threaten you

Tomorrow’s Child, my daughter-son
I’m afraid I’ve just begun
To think of you and of your good,
Though always having known I should.

Begin I will to weigh the cost
of what I squander; what is lost
If ever I forget that you
will someday come to live here too.

Source: Ted Blog

Sniffing out Energy Efficiency Projects at Firmenich

By: Rich Grousset, 2011 EDF Climate Corps Fellow at Firmenich, MBA/MS Candidate at University of Michigan’s Erb Institute

Can you name a company in the flavor and fragrance industry? Not a brand name perfume or beverage you and I would find at the store, but a company that actually creates the smells and flavors in the products we use every day? I couldn't until I came across Firmenich on the list of companies participating in the Environmental Defense Fund's (EDF) Climate Corps program this summer. After doing a bit of research and learning of the company's commitment to sustainability, my curiosity took over and I listed the company as my top choice.

Firmenich was founded in Geneva, Switzerland in the late 1800s. With over 6000 employees in 64 countries, it’s now the largest privately-owned company in the flavor and fragrance industry. Firmenich's people are trained experts in taste and smell who create perfumes and flavors for the world's most popular brands. My job as an EDF Climate Corps fellow though is to identify energy efficiency opportunities at the North American headquarters in Princeton, NJ, with a particular focus on heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC).

Where to start?

The 18 buildings on this campus vary in age from 8 to 60 years and their functional purposes include industrial, laboratory, office, and even wastewater treatment. With such a variety of building types and purposes, deciding how to get started was more than slightly daunting. Fortunately, EDF provided all 57 of us fellows with a three-day training, a handbook and, new this year, a “barriers to energy efficiency” tool with 28 pages of questions to ask during our first weeks on the job. Though analyzing energy usage data was also an essential first step, it was the conversations sparked by the barriers tool that created a useful background and narrative around the numbers.

HVAC…It's Complicated

Commercial HVAC systems are more complicated than I originally thought, especially in a newer office and laboratory building with sensors, controls, and countless variable air volume (VAV) boxes. Completed in 2004 and weighing in at 115,000 square feet, Firmenich’s Prism building is the newest and largest on campus. However, as I learned during a free online training for EPA's Portfolio Manager, building age is not a significant predictor of efficient performance – it's all about operations and management. Indeed, analysis of energy usage data revealed that the Prism building had a particularly high energy use intensity (kBtu per square foot per year) when compared to a functionally similar, yet slightly older, building on campus.

The scent was getting stronger…but how would someone with no background in HVAC systems begin to decipher whether or not such a complex system is performing properly?

Seek Professional Help

Fortunately, after discussing the issue with facilities managers, they asked an HVAC engineer to do a preliminary investigation. He found a number of issues with the building management system's (BMS) programming and how systems were responding to its commands. Or not responding, for that matter. For example, four exhaust fans were running continuously when only two were needed after hours. All three chiller units were being used at partial capacity instead of one being used at maximum capacity and the others being used only when needed.

While a retro-commissioning (RCx) project is needed to ensure a holistic approach to optimizing the HVAC system, it will likely pay for itself in two years or less. Fixing even just the few issues already identified by the engineer is expected to reduce the entire building's electricity use by around 25%. For a 115,000 square foot facility with a lot of laboratory space, that is definitely not pocket change.

Lesson Learned

Keeping complicated building systems running efficiently requires vigilance and technical expertise. Because building systems naturally degrade and go "out of tune" over time, periodic retro-commissioning and continuous commissioning are two good options to ensure systems run according to specifications year after year. Sub-metering and web-based monitoring systems also make it significantly easier for busy facility managers to notice when something is out of whack.

After a whirlwind ten weeks, I am enjoying the sweet smell of success. Literally…the company gave me a bottle of its exclusive, private-label fragrance that is not for sale anywhere. Seriously, though, I am fortunate to have been matched with Firmenich. Sustainability has been a part of the DNA here for decades but, along with thousands of other businesses around the world, the company is now trying to fully understand how to incorporate energy efficiency into its decision making. I'm glad I was able to join this team, to learn from them, and to contribute to their efforts during this exciting time.

EDF Climate Corps matches trained students from leading business schools with companies to develop practical, actionable energy efficiency plans. Sign up to receive emails about EDF Climate Corps, including regular blog posts by our fellows. You can also visit our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter to get regular updates about this project.