Changing Culture Changes Behavior: Labor Union Treasure Hunts find lasting success

Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) innovative partnership with labor union IUE-CWA took me close to home with its second Treasure Hunt at CCL Container in Hermitage, PA, a facility that designs and manufactures aluminum based packaging products for a wide variety of industries, producing a 100 percent recyclable product.  The Treasure Hunt identified over $180,000 in annual savings and over 1,300 metric tons of carbon reductions that can be implemented for less than $29,000.  The CCL Container Treasure Hunt was a great success and labor union members were able to identify some fantastic savings for the company.  The most significant change I saw taking place at the Treasure Hunt wasn’t changing an oven temperature or saving water, though.  It was the change in culture that with the union members and the managers at the companies where these Treasure Hunts are held.

EDF and IUE-CWA’s partnership is focused on locating and implementing savings opportunities, but for this process of energy efficiency implementation and savings to be continuous, there has to be a culture of energy awareness at the company. We also need to shift the way we think about efficiency and energy use.  Energy efficiency can save jobs, money and give a company a competitive edge in a world where energy costs are going nowhere but up.

To shift our thinking about energy efficiency, we also much shift the language we use when discussing it.  If we’re going to make people care about energy efficiency, we need to speak to them in a language that they’re able to understand. When we talk about energy efficiency, we typically use data and large numbers that we think make the best case for energy efficiency.  We believe that phrases like “You can save 8,000 gallons of water a day” and “We eliminated 400,000 kWh’s of electricity use” have power to make a change.  Clearly, those numbers should spur energy-saving projects left and right!  Right?  Well, take a second to conceptualize those numbers. Can you?   Do you have enough of a grasp on what they really mean? I certainly have a hard time and so do most people, including the workers out on the plant floor.

At CCL, I was struck by the impact energy efficiency opportunities had on union members and managers alike, once they were able to conceptualize the significance of the savings available.  When discussing water savings, a union member explained that they could save the equivalent of three swimming pools of water a day by simply emptying a bin at the end of a shift rather than allowing a continuous flow of water.  Three swimming pools a day!  That’s 1,095 swimming pools a year.  On the floor, an employee realized that an unused machine could be turned off and that it would save the equivalent of his home electricity use for a year.  Once employees are able to fully understand the impact they can have, energy efficiency starts to become integral to the way decisions are made.

What struck me about this Treasure Hunt was not the savings.  You can walk into any facility or plant and likely find energy savings.  Technology is constantly advancing, equipment ages and there is always room for improvement, at both old facilities and new.  What was really impressive about my time at CCL Container was the way that people were beginning to think about energy.  A culture change is occurring at the companies we visit and with the union members who participate. This kind of lasting change is going to allow IUE-CWA and the companies that employ its members to continue to be competitive while making a positive impact on the environment.