Yar! Treasure Hunt Digs Up $70,000 in Energy Cost Savings

For some, a Treasure Hunt calls to mind images of the high seas, pirates and buried treasure. This particular Treasure Hunt, however, occurred not at sea, but in Springboro, Ohio—at the Cobasys advanced battery manufacturing plant. But it did turn up a treasure trove of energy cost savings and carbon reductions…and a few pirates too!

Our “Treasure Hunt” was led by energy-efficiency expert Bruce Bremer to identify opportunities to reduce energy use and waste at manufacturing plants. It relies on engaging plant employees to seek out energy and others savings during both "shut-down mode" and "normal" operating mode within a three-day period. These savings are identified, quantified and tallied up in a report that is presented to the company's management team.

To promote the broad application of this effective tool, IUE-CWA, a labor union with 45,000 members at over 300 manufacturing plants across the United States, and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) formed an innovative partnership.  We work together to train IUE-CWA workers on conducting Energy Efficiency “Treasure Hunts” at manufacturing plants with their members.

The project helps overcome some of the barriers that hinder companies from adopting energy-efficiency investments—ranging from limited resources, information gaps and organizational barriers. By addressing these barriers, we hope that companies will invest in the abundant, economically attractive energy-savings opportunities that are available. For example, McKinsey estimates that the U.S. industrial sector could cut energy use by 18 percent and save $442 billion.

For additional data and case studies, see  www.LessCarbonMoreInnovation.org.

By seizing these energy-efficiency opportunities, the U.S. manufacturing sector can save money on energy costs and protect itself from future energy price increases. These investments also promote U.S. manufacturing competitiveness that protect and create new jobs here—and improve environmental performance to boot.

At the pilot Treasure Hunt at the Cobasys plant, teams composed of members from IUE-CWA (including members from other facilities), EDF, and Cobasys managers searched the plant for energy-saving opportunities, including examining process equipment, lighting, compressed air, and HVAC systems. The results: the Treasure Hunt identified $70,000 in savings (20 percent of current energy costs) and over 700 metric tons of carbon (20 percent of carbon emissions).

Here are a few lessons I took away:

Even new manufacturing plants using the latest technology and equipment can overlook energy-saving opportunities that are literally “buried treasures”. The Cobasys plant is a new facility that was built in 2003 and uses state-of-the-art technology. Yet even here, our Treasure Hunt team was able to identify significant opportunities.

IUE-CWA’s workers bring deep knowledge and expertise to the table. The IUE-CWA workers who participated in the Treasure Hunt brought an impressive depth of practical, first-hand manufacturing technical expertise and knowledge that was invaluable in identifying energy-saving opportunities. The Treasure Hunt provides a great way to tap this resource.

Treasure Hunts are a great way to energize and excite workers to look for energy-saving opportunities. The enthusiasm of the IUE-CWA workers was energizing and contagious.  In fact, they got so caught up in the spirit of the “Treasure Hunt”, they donned pirate eye patches!

So while our Treasure Hunt at the Cobasys plant didn’t turn up any gold Doubloons, we did find a wealth of energy-efficiency opportunities. IUE-CWA and EDF will be working together to identify energy-efficiency opportunities at other plants with IUE-CWA workers—and promoting this approach with other labor unions to drive widespread energy-efficiency improvements in the U.S. manufacturing sector.

More on EDF's work in energy efficiency.