Treasure Hunts: Engaging employees equals successful energy reduction and big savings

Employee engagement is becoming a hot topic around the corporate water cooler.  Increasingly, CSR managers are seeing it as a way to not only have happier employees, but also to drive business value.

At the same time, many companies are not fully taking advantage of energy efficiency, despite all the opportunities it can offer for saving money and lowering a company’s environmental footprint.

One proven model, Treasure Hunts, provides a high-impact way to engage employees and reduce energy use — at the same time.  First developed by Toyota, Treasure Hunts are dynamic, hands-on events that resemble a cross between an energy audit and a scavenger hunt.

Spanning somewhere between one and three days, depending on the size and complexity of the facility, each Hunt involves cross-functional teams of employees who work together to identify and quantify savings opportunities for lighting, HVAC, equipment and more – wherever energy is used.  Commonly associated with manufacturing, Treasure Hunts have been tested in office spaces and many other types of buildings.

EDF has now taken the Treasure Hunt model and is working with labor unions to build stronger, more sustainable workplaces by tapping the unique expertise of union members and help uncover energy and environmental savings that strengthen the bottom line and improve the competitiveness of participating companies. Learn more about our work with labor unions.

Resources for doing Treasure Hunts

The art of developing and facilitating Treasure Hunts is usually learned by shadowing an experienced Treasure Hunt leader.

GE has now published a Treasure Hunt Checklist, which outlines its process for setting up and facilitating the events, to help other interested companies. GE has performed over 200 internal Treasure Hunts across its businesses with $150 million in savings opportunities identified.

Also, recently published “How to Conduct a Treasure Hunt,” which offers additional tips and best practices.

Build energy efficiency into corporate culture

Successful Treasure Hunts involve employees from throughout the company:  From maintenance and facilities to engineering and marketing to the CFO’s office.  Doing so not only brings in fresh ideas and increases employee awareness about energy efficiency, but also generates immediate employee buy-in.  Simply put, employees who are given the opportunity to present their ideas to management at the end of the Treasure Hunt are going to care very much if those ideas are implemented.

Ultimately, a Treasure Hunt can be the beginning of a new employee culture where everyone feels ownership over energy use.

Crowd-sourcing stirs up fresh ideas for recycling TVs and monitors

Can our old TVs and computer monitors, which are filled with toxic substances, be safely and profitably recycled into new products?  We don’t know, but with tens of millions units expected to hit the waste stream over the next few years as households upgrade to newer flat panel models, we need to find out. And fast.

Solving tough problems requires leadership and innovation.  In this case, I’m happy to report that we have both. The leadership is coming from the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), and its eCycling Leadership Initiative.

The innovation is coming from literally around the world. In December, CEA posted this problem as an “Eco-Challenge,” a crowd-sourcing competition Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) developed with InnoCentive.

InnoCentive’s global community of more than 250,000 “Solvers” — scientists, inventors and other creative problem-solvers from over 200  countries — had approximately one month to propose ideas for solutions.

More than 350 Solvers participated in the Eco-Challenge, which received over 50 proposals.  CEA awarded the three most intriguing ideas prize money totaling $11,000.

But the challenge doesn’t end there.  In addition to working with the award-winning Solvers to further explore their ideas, CEA plans to make these solutions available to the public at with the dual goals of raising awareness and helping to create market demand for used CRT glass.

We don’t yet have a solution to the TV/monitor recycling problem, but we have taken a big step forward with these three award-winning ideas. Stay tuned, or better yet, get involved.

Could you deliver a solution to the television-recycling problem?

As more and more households upgrade their old TVs to the newer flat panels, a troubling question must be asked:  What happens to the old ones?   Over the next few years, an estimated one billion pounds of discarded TVs and monitors are anticipated to hit the waste stream.

Recycling seems like the easy answer, but, as usual, the reality is more complicated than that.

To start with, in order for a product to be recycled, there has to be a market for the recycled material.  In the case of old TVs, a large component of that material is cathode ray tube glass, or CRT.  Up until recently, CRT glass was recycled into new CRT glass, but the market has virtually dried up as electronics makers phase out old model TVs.

Additionally, recycling CRT is tricky because, like many electronics, it contains toxic chemicals—in this case lead, a dangerous neurotoxin.  Recycling facilities have to ensure that workers aren’t exposed to lead and that lead is not released into the environment.  And because of this high lead content, CRT glass isn’t suitable for most recycled glass products.

This leaves recyclers and state regulators in a conundrum.  Recyclers can’t continue to stockpile these TVs and monitors indefinitely.  And while many states have bans on sending these units to landfill, California is now considering removing this ban to allow CRT glass to be sent to landfills that are designated for hazardous waste.

But is there a better alternative to land-filling?  Could a new financially viable market for recycled CRT glass be developed, one that has the potential to create net benefits for human health and the environment?

And that’s where the Eco-Challenge Series, Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) crowd-sourcing competition on, comes into play.  The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the trade group of promoting the U.S. consumer electronics industry, has just launched “The Cathode Ray Tube Challenge: New Uses for Recycled Glass.”  This is an “ideation” challenge that is looking for new, out-the-box ideas for reusing CRT.

Over the next 30 days, InnoCentive global community of “Solvers”—scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs in more than 200 countries—will have the opportunity to propose new ideas.  The winning solution will be assessed for economic as well as environmental and health benefits, and awarded $5,000 provided by CEA. Up to four additional solutions are eligible for awards of $1,000 or more.

We expect that the ideas selected will require further study and testing, but who knows?  Maybe a viable solution is just around the corner.  We’ll report back when the results are announced in early 2012.

Learn about sustainability benchmarking and reporting from your peers – in just 30 minutes

Share your latest experiences with sustainability benchmarking and reporting — and learn from others working in the field — on this Tuesday’s “Growing GIBN Conversation.”  This conference call is a part of the Green Innovators in Business Network (GIBN) monthly series on timely business-sustainability topics.

To kick off the conversation, Environmental Defense Fund’s Kirk Hourdajian will share insights from Green Returns, EDF’s growing body of management tools designed for the private equity sector.   All participants will be encouraged to discuss their own experiences and resources and pose questions to the group.

Complete details are below:

“Evidence for Sustainability:  Trends in Benchmarking and Reporting”

Tuesday, March 8

2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT

Call-in number: 760-569-9000 / passcode 160031#

If you missed last month’s call, Strategies for engaging your colleagues and your company’s leadership in sustainability, you can listen to the podcast or read the notes.

The Green Innovators in Business Network (GIBN) is a growing national collective of individuals and organizations that provides opportunities for “business change makers” to share lessons and solutions for moving toward a more sustainable economy.

EDF and GE Partner on Local Energy Savings Projects

In a world of uncertainty, energy efficiency may be the only sure bet, zero-risk investment.  If you look for energy efficiency opportunities, you will find them—and you will save money.  Period.

That’s why GE refers to its energy efficiency-process as the ecomagination “Treasure Hunt.”  And, with help from GE and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), hunting for treasure is exactly what the City of Orlando did last month.  A dedicated team of city, GE and EDF employees spent 2-1/2 full days, including a Saturday while the annual Florida Classic football game was going on, combing Orlando’s 70 plus-year old Citrus Bowl Stadium for opportunities to save energy.

Read more

Adam Lowry, Robin Chase to discuss “New Business Models” on Tuesday’s EDFix Call

The “Future of Green” podcast series continues tomorrow — Tuesday, November 23 — with a discussion about “New Business Models for Sustainability.”  The speakers are Robin Chase, entrepreneur and founder of ZipCar, and Adam Lowry, co-founder and chief greenskeeper of Method.

To join the live conversation, dial into the following number at 10 am PT/ 1 pm ET:

* Phone number: +1 (213) 289-0500
* Code: 267-6815

If you can’t join the call, you will have an opportunity to download the entire “Future of Green” podcast series when it goes online in January.

Read more

Solutions Lab in Fayetteville on Nov. 5th – Helping Suppliers Get Ahead of the Sustainability Curve

Retail suppliers, large and small, are being asked to do more and more.  Report carbon emissions.  Eliminate waste.  Reduce energy, water and chemical inputs.  Save the planet.

As the first step on this journey, suppliers are being asked to “be transparent.” But what does supply chain transparency really mean for them?  And how can suppliers use it to create value for their businesses and strengthen relationships with customers?

Suppliers have the opportunity to explore these questions at the Green Innovation in Business Solutions Lab, a unique one-day workshop on November 5, organized by the Applied Sustainability Center at the University of Arkansas, Environmental Defense Fund and other partners.  They’ll be able to talk through shared challenges and brainstorm solutions with leading experts from academia, NGOs and the private sector.

Confirmed speakers include sustainability leaders from Walmart, such as Fred Bedore, Zach Freeze, Lea Jepson, and Vonda Lockwood, along with representatives from leading companies such as Clorox, Dean Foods and GE.

Read more

Solutions Labs 2010: Accelerating Green Innovation at Events Around the Country

Leading-edge businesses such as IBM, GE, KKR, Walmart and many others are tackling environmental sustainability head on. They are finding profit and spurring innovation by looking through the “green lens” of environmental sustainability. Both business and the environment need more of this thinking from more people in more organizations in more sectors.

The Solutions Labs 2010 are to here to help.  This series of one-day events, kicking off on May 21 in New York City (hosted by Bloomberg), will bring together leading thinkers and “doers” from business, academia and a myriad of organizations to explore the next generation of business sustainability – one in which we can grow profits and positive benefits for the planet.

The Solutions Labs are the version 2.0 of last year’s “Green Innovation for Business Unconferences” held in Washington DC, Boston, San Jose and Austin. An even more diverse and interesting mix of partners are coming together to produce this year’s series:  Ashoka, Dig In, Environmental Defense Fund,, Net Impact, the Society for Organizational Learning, and Sony Pictures, among others.

The organizers (this blogger included) have grand aspirations for growing the Solutions Labs into an incubator for big ideas. (Think a TED Conference for innovators in the environmentally-sustainable business space.)  While that vision may take another year to two to come into focus, what we can promise now is a highly interactive and engaging gathering decidedly different from other green business conference. Read more

Social Media: Is it the Sustainability Manager’s Job?

A corporate sustainability manager’s job is never done.  These harried multi-taskers deal with everything from phasing Styrofoam cups out of the cafeteria to setting company-wide carbon reduction goals.

And now they need to blog, tweet and manage Facebook fan sites—so said the line up of experts at the recent Social Media for Sustainability conference, hosted by Just Means.

Panel after panel covered the hows and whys of using social media to engage employees, customers and other stakeholders.  But the big idea, underscored in nearly every presentation, was much more fundamental:  It’s all about transparency. Read more

Green innovation: Alive and well, even in a tough economy

IR graphicNext Tuesday, EDF will release the second annual Innovations Review at the Fortune Brainstorm Green conference.

The Innovations Review is our survey of the most compelling — and implementable — new practices and technologies that generate environmental and business benefits for companies.

The Review team has been toiling away for months looking for advances in water conservation, packaging, supply chain management, IT and more. In the back of all our minds is the question: Given state of the economy, is environmental innovation still a viable use of company resources?

The answer is a resounding “yes.” We looked at nearly 200 examples of new environmental practices across industries and sectors. We narrowed this pool down to a final slate of 15, based four criteria: environmental benefits, business benefits, replicability and innovativeness.

These 15 represent a broad range of innovations. Some can lower operating costs or drive sales or strengthen the brand. Others create new markets, reduce risk or stake out leadership positions. If taken to scale, all offer huge benefits for the environment.

Innovations featured in last year’s Review included:

Fireman’s Fund’s Green-Guard insurance, special coverage for green-certified commercial buildings.

Telepresence systems—offered by Cisco and HP—the next generation of video conferencing that can virtually eliminate the need for business travel.

Solar power purchase agreements, financing tools that are allowing Target, Macy’s, Wal-Mart and Microsoft, among many others, to equip their buildings with solar panels at no capital cost to the company.

Truck engine controls that cap truck speed to reduce fuel consumption. Staples put a 60-mile per hour ceiling on its truck fleet, resulting in a 15% increase in fuel economy.

To download the 2008 report, click here. And watch for the next installment on April 21.