Treasure Hunt: Engage Employees & Save Energy

In an earlier blog post (The Behavioral Component of Energy Efficiency) I explained that reducing energy use comes from two main areas:

Efficiency           which is a function of technology
Conservation     which is a function of operation and maintenance (i.e. behavior)

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Energy Star program recently released a guide to help companies identify energy conservation opportunities.

Energy Treasure Hunt Guide - thumbnailEnergy Treasure Hunt Guide: Simple Steps to Finding Energy Savings is focused on engaging employees in the process of identifying low/no cost operation and maintenance (O&M) opportunities to reduce energy consumption.  According to the guide the advantage of a treasure hunt is that it identifies “improvements that can often be made immediately and without significant expenditures.”

The Guide outlines the major steps for running your own energy treasure hunt, including: preparation, pre-training, event, and follow-up.  The treasure hunt is an onsite event conducted by cross-functional teams of employees who are in the best position to understand facility operations, and identify and evaluate opportunities to reduce energy use.   Two examples from the Guide show that companies have successfully used Energy Treasure Hunts to achieve significant results.

Hanes Brands Inc: Energy Treasure Hunts have resulted in a behavioral shift in how the organization thinks about energy usage, and helped Hanesbrands to reduce energy costs by more than $4 million dollars in one year.

Merck & Company: In less than two years, the Merck Energy Treasure Hunts had identified more than $12 million from just five plants, equivalent to 20 percent of the company’s greenhouse gas reduction goal, while building employee awareness and enthusiasm for finding energy waste.

The Guide lists the following benefits that accrue to organizations implementing Energy Treasure Hunts:

  • Develops employees’ energy knowledge
  • Motivates employees to pursue energy innovation
  • Creates focus on low-cost operational improvements
  • Establishes culture of continuous improvement and cross-functional collaboration
  • Reduces overall energy use, energy cost, and greenhouse gas emissions
  • Requires lower initial coordination cost compared to an audit or assessment
  • Sparks employee ownership of energy-saving strategies

Energy Treasure Hunts are one example of Kaizen (continual improvement) philosophy tools, which are the core elements of most lean production methods, and that were popularized by the spread of the Toyota Production System.  The key to achieving continual improvement is the routine and sustained application of the tools over time.   To that end, the Guide encourages Energy Treasure Hunt users to schedule follow-up events and to integrate Treasure Hunts into ongoing energy management or quality management systems.  More information on using lean tools to improve energy and environmental performance is available at EPA’s Lean Manufacturing and the Environment website.

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