What We Build Together: Collaborating to Scale up Sustainability

Brendan FitzSimons speaking at Accelerating Sustainability

Brendan FitzSimons (2nd from left) speaking at Accelerating Sustainability

Today’s environmental challenges are bigger, thornier and more interconnected than ever. Meeting these challenges will require more effective collaborations among businesses, governments and NGOs to discover and deliver solutions.

That’s why it was so encouraging to see the focus on partnerships between these sectors to scale up sustainability at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's 2014 Accelerating Sustainability Forum.

I participated in a panel entitled “Sustainability and the Return on Collaboration” with Eunice Heath, Dow Chemical’s global director for sustainability, Ann Klee, GE’s vice president of environment, health and safety, and Monique Oxender, Keurig Green Mountain’s senior director for sustainability. Chris Guenther of SustainAbility, the panel’s moderator, asked us to share our perspectives on collaboration and how they have evolved over time.

During the panel, I spoke about EDF’s more than two decades of experience working with leading companies to unlock environmental benefits, starting with our first corporate partnership with McDonalds to identify opportunities to cut waste and save money. That approach—identifying opportunities that deliver both environmental benefits and business value—has characterized our other corporate collaborations, including those with FedEx, Walmart, and AT&T.

For example, our work with AT&T has focused on identifying ways to cool their buildings more efficiently, saving both water and energy. Based on our work together, AT&T has publicly committed to saving 150 million gallons of water and 400 million kilowatt hours of electricity from building cooling each year by 2015.

Increasingly, companies like AT&T are also recognizing the influence collaborations like these can have on environmental performance beyond their own walls and operations:

Guenther noted that while collaboration is needed to develop environmental solutions that can overcome industry and competitive boundaries, these efforts can also be challenging. An audience member took that opportunity to ask the panel what we thought were the key elements for successful partnerships:

  1. Take the time to build relationships and understand your partner’s concerns.
  2. It’s important to understand the business case for making environmental improvements. Often, the business case is based on cost reductions, but other compelling arguments include risk management, the creation of new business opportunities, or brand/reputational benefits.
  3. Be clear on goals and objectives of a partnership to avoid any confusion or disappointment among both parties.

While collaborations to realize environmental benefits among companies and NGOs can change over time and require care and attention, they hold the potential to address problems affecting not only a single company, but an entire industry.

Additional reading:

Scaling Up to Save Water: Bringing our Water Efficiency Toolkit to 5 Thirsty U.S. Cities

This year, the focus of World Water Day is on how intertwined our energy and water use are, with water supplies across the country growing increasingly strained – in areas that depend on flows from the Colorado River, like California, for example – and demand for both freshwater and energy continuing to grow.

Former EDF Climate Corps fellow Jen Snook with an AT&T representative

Former EDF Climate Corps fellow Jen Snook with an AT&T representative

In the U.S., 36 states faced water shortages last summer, and the 2012 drought cost the U.S. an estimated $35 billion from crop losses and business interruptions. U.S. water prices have doubled or even tripled over the past dozen years, and rates are expected to continue to climb.

Water is a critical business issue as well, and not just for the agricultural and industrial sectors. Increasing droughts and water shortages are causing companies to pay more attention to their water use throughout their operations. In particular, when it comes to buildings, companies are learning that their water and energy use are closely connected. Read more

Cut Water Use for Today’s Drought—And Tomorrow’s

California reservoir levels; red lines indicate historical average levels. (Source: California Data Exchange Center)

California reservoir levels; red lines indicate historical average levels. (Source: California Data Exchange Center)

California is experiencing its driest year on record, facing a drought that impacts industries across the state: electricity, farming, fishing, even tourism. Governor Jerry Brown declared the drought a statewide emergency last January, and President Obama visited the state on Friday to speak firsthand with farmers and other stakeholders about how the drought is impacting them.

While the state and the federal government rally resources to try and help those affected in this crisis, businesses also have a role to play by reducing how much their operations impact the state’s precious water supplies.

AT&T stepped out in front of the issue on Friday, with AT&T California President Ken McNeely announcing that he was directing the company’s 34,000 California employees to reduce their company water usage by 30 percent until the drought condition passes. Among the measures McNeely announced, employees will reduce water use by cutting landscape irrigation and halting the washing of AT&T’s fleet of more than 15,000 vehicles. Kudos to AT&T for acting quickly in a time of crisis to implement these and other measures at their California facilities. Read more

A Hacker, a Hipster, and a Hustler Walk Into A Bar…

O.K. not a bar, but into the Manhattan Center’s Hammerstein Ballroom for the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon. Never heard of a Hackathon?  Well, until recently, I hadn’t either. It’s an event where teams of coders compete over a very short period of time to develop an app. As I learned, the “Hacking Dream Team” is to have a Hacker to do the guts of the app, the Hipster to focus on the look and feel of the app, and the Hustler to hold the project and team together. According to the event organizers, this was the best attended Hackathon TechCrunch has sponsored yet. Over 160 teams of coders competed to develop apps in less than 24 hours.

Attending the Hackathon was like getting a glimpse into the future and included demonstrations of 3-D printing and drones. Hundreds of coders hunched over their keyboards to crank out apps that ranged from the whimsical—such as the music app Game of Tones to the practical—like an app to help you with your job search called Career Hound—to those that combined the whimsical/practical such as RoboKeg.

Scaling Up Building Water-Energy Savings

Increasing droughts and water shortages are causing companies to pay more attention to their water use. Leaders like AT&T understand that proactively engaging in water conservation—including working with suppliers—can help mitigate its risks to water stress.

In 2012, EDF and AT&T launched an effort to identify opportunities to reduce water and energy use in buildings, with a focus on cooling towers. It turns out that many buildings are sitting on big opportunities to reduce water use in their cooling towers — up to 40% — in ways that can also save money. Based on these findings, AT&T is aiming for 150 million gallons in annualized water reductions by the end of 2015.

Green Jobs, Blue Jobs

The industrial sector accounts for roughly one-third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The good news is that there are huge, untapped energy-efficiency opportunities that can save manufacturing companies money (see www.lesscarbonmoreinnovation.org). Unfortunately barriers—ranging from financial, organizational and cultural—hinder companies from implementing these solutions

That’s why EDF has teamed up with the labor union IUE-CWA on a project to overcome these barriers. IUE-CWA workers are being taught to conduct energy-efficiency “Treasure Hunts,” which leverages their first-hand expertise and knowledge to identify efficiency opportunities. We recently co-presented about the project at the Good Jobs, Green Jobs regional conference in Los Angeles —a gathering of labor unions and environment organizations.

In addition to myself (to see my presentation, click here), the speakers included:

  • Lauren Asplen, Assistant to the President, IUE-CWA.
  • Bruce Bremer, Bremer Energy Consulting Services.
  • Bill Draves, Treasure Hunt Team Leader, IUE-CWA Local 722
  • Ed Derr, Lean Coordinator, IUE-CWA Local 648

Lauren Asplen spoke about how training its members to conduct energy-efficiency Treasure Hunts complements its Lean High Performance Manufacturing program.  Lauren noted that the savings identified so far have been very impressive—regardless of type or age of the plant: “We’ve identified significant savings at every plant we’ve gone to so far—including new plants or plants that had already undertaken initiatives to cut their energy savings by 50 percent.” (To see Lauren’s presentation, click here).

Bruce Bremer, an energy management consultant with over 30 years of experience, is training IUE-CWA workers on conducting energy-efficiency Treasure Hunts. Bruce spoke about and clarified how Treasure Hunts fit into an overall energy management program. Bruce also clarified the difference between an energy audit and a Treasure Hunt. “A Treasure Hunt is a three day event that involves workers at the plant as well as external experts to identify energy-efficiency opportunities. The Treasure Hunt is also aimed at changing workplace culture so that the participants bring back the key concepts from the Treasure Hunt into their day-to-day work as part of a process of continual improvement. An energy audit is typically done by an outside expert and is not aimed at engaging workers or changing work place behaviors.” (To see Bruce’s presentation, click here).

Bill Draves, who hails from IUE-CWA Local 722 at a GE lighting plant in Warren, OH, talked about the types of energy-saving opportunities that IUE-CWA”s Treasure Hunt teams have been identifying. “The small opportunities can add up to big savings.” He mentioned an example of a small gap in the seal around an oven door. Pinching his fingers close together for added emphasis, he said: “The seal around the oven door had a very small gap, but this small gap was resulting in a lot of wasted energy. With a few hundred dollar fix of new insulation to seal the door, the company could start saving over $10,000/year!”

Ed Derr, who is a Lean Coordinator at IUE-CWA Local 648 at CCL Container, which makes aluminum containers, in Hermitage, PA,  spoke about the Treasure Hunt experience at his plant. Ed talked about the enthusiasm among the workers for the Treasure Hunt—some of the workers got so excited that they started implementing the savings opportunities before the Treasure Hunt was even over. Since CCL has basically been operating 24/7 for over 15 years, the “down-time” opportunities are few and far between. One of those opportunities occurred a few weeks after the Treasure Hunt during Thanksgiving.  CCL’s workers, who are basically going to work every day of the week, came in during Thanksgiving to implement one of the efficiency projects identified. That speaks volumes about the enthusiasm of the workers and their commitment to improving efficiency at their plants. Their motivation? “A lot of manufacturing jobs have been lost around where I live. I want to do everything I can to help make this plant as competitive as possible so that I still have a job.” Ed also added that the type of energy savings that he and his co-workers are identifying help the environment, which is “important for my kids.”

”Sustainability is also about sustaining jobs,” observed Bill. That’s a critical piece of the puzzle if we’re going to succeed in unlocking the full potential of industrial energy efficiency and moving towards a low-carbon economy.

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.