A Hydrating Dose of Energy Efficiency: EDF Climate Corps Fellows at Nestlé Waters

By Justin Lindenmayer and Jenny McColloch, MBA Candidates, Yale University's School of Management, EDF Climate Corps Fellows 2011

With the most LEED certified factories (9), most water-efficient production process among all  packaged beverage companies in the US, and well on its way to achieving its goal of a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 2006 levels by 2013, what more could Nestlé Waters North America possibly do to improve its energy and water footprint? This is exactly the question that faced us on our first day as EDF Climate Corps Fellows at the largest bottled water company on the continent.

We began our journey armed with a week-long, EDF-led crash course in corporate energy efficiency and the peace of mind that Nestlé is dedicated to environmental stewardship.  Walking around the brand new corporate headquarters — another candidate for LEED Certification – during our first week gave us a virtual best practices manual in office energy efficiency but did nothing to build our confidence that we would find many “easy wins.”  (Here,  occupancy sensors, fluorescent lamps, tinted windows and Energy Star equipment abound.)

Fast forward ten weeks. After countless conversations with Nestlé Waters engineers, facilities and plant managers, financiers, accountants, EH&S experts and third party vendors; visits to bottling plants in Maine and Ohio; and consultations with E-Source, EDF Staff, and our peers in the Climate Corps community – we’ve identified three themes that have largely defined our experience, and that we feel are critical to bear in mind when playing in the energy efficiency sandbox.

1. Fresh eyes bring new perspectives

As well-established as a company’s existing energy efficiency infrastructure may be in terms of staff, money, commitments and overall resources, it is important to infuse it with new blood every once in a while. This allows consideration of previously unconsidered ideas, questions long-standing assumptions, and inspires some “why not” experiments. Moreover, new eyes always have the potential to identify new varieties of low-hanging fruit or fruit that’s been growing behind the leaves.

It didn’t take us long to notice the bright blue refrigerators holding Nestlé Waters products that flank the coffee stations on each of our office’s four floors. Our early conversations with the building engineer confirmed that the fridges stay on all night, despite the fact that no one is looking for a cold, refreshing, non-perishable bottle of water at 1 AM. Recognizing that all other energy-using equipment of significance shuts down each night in “unoccupied mode,” we asked ourselves and the building engineer why the fridges couldn’t be added to the unoccupied mix with a few simple programmable timers. A few calculations and conversations later, we teased out an extremely low-cost, almost immediate payback project for which we and the building engineer are equally enthusiastic about endorsing.

2. Even when opportunities are identified, they need legs to get them moving.

Regardless of how obvious the energy savings and discounted payback may seem on an energy efficiency project, at large manufacturing corporations, energy efficiency project proposals often need multiple champions to get them off the ground for implementation. Energy-related projects are regularly initiated by the plant personnel who double as efficiency sleuths on the factory floor. But identification is just the first step in an efficiency project’s journey through a deep web of savings calculations, layers of approvals, capital allocation and technology tweaks before reaching final implementation and realizing energy savings.

To implement energy efficiency improvements at scale nationwide, a coalition of advocates must understand corporate efficiency priorities and funding criteria, appreciate the differences in production systems across plants, and most importantly, utilize an effective communication system to leverage efficiency “wins” across such a sophisticated supply chain.

While most of the low-hanging fruit was addressed across Nestlé Waters’ plants long ago, a second generation of energy-saving projects unique to the beverage industry has developed and proved  challenging to scale across  diverse production environments nationwide. Our presence at Nestlé Waters this summer has facilitated communication among engineers, efficiency experts, plant managers and corporate champions –  enabling discussion of “apples-to-apples” best practices across plants and helping Nestlé Waters standardize the energy and cost saving calculations of plant-specific innovations.

3. Just because it’s hard to quantify doesn’t mean it’s not important.

While the EDF Climate Corps program has enabled the identification of millions of kilowatt hours and operational cost savings at leading corporations over its short history, a Climate Corps fellow’s projects often go far beyond the traditional numerical calculations that make energy efficiency projects so compelling. Many fellows help companies expand their energy management strategies, to design employee engagement systems or to review the latest energy efficiency financing approaches. This work is often difficult to quantify, but the project outcomes are vitally important to the success of widespread energy efficiency project implementation, and eventually, energy and cost savings.

At Nestlé Waters, one of our projects has involved working with the energy managers to establish the efficiency strategies for two very newly acquired brands: Sweet Leaf & Tradewinds Tea, which represent NWNA’s first foray into non-water beverages. While we are not responsible for calculating NPVs of potential efficiency improvements at these new facilities at this stage, our EDF Climate Corps training has been fundamental to our contributions.

With Nestlé Waters’ prioritization of energy efficiency across its operations, it’s been no surprise to us that the company has achieved such remarkable greenhouse gas emissions reductions despite its sustained growth. Indeed, Nestlé Waters’ bottled waters have the lightest carbon-footprint in the entire U.S. packaged beverage industry. It may be difficult to place a dollar figure on such a responsible corporate energy efficiency approach, but there’s no denying its value.