'Shop floor to top floor' - Energy efficiency from the bottom up

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New technology may be part of the answer, but thinking differently about energy efficiency is a must.

That was the message on how to save millions of dollars in energy costs delivered to CEOs at the 2010 Corporate Energy Efficiency Conference.  The conference was held earlier this week in downtown Chicago.

Chicago Climate Action Plan is the city's energy efficiency plan. Picture from a slide of a powerpoint presentation by Suzanne Malec-McKenna.Chicago Climate Action Plan is the city's energy efficiency plan. Picture from a slide of a powerpoint presentation by Suzanne Malec-McKenna.The meeting focused on a newly released report, “From Shop Floor to Top Floor: Best Business Practices in Energy Efficiency,” issued by the Pew Center on Climate Change.

“What surprised us doing the study was the number of additional benefits corporations experience when they decide to get serious about energy efficiency,” said Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center.  “These (benefits) include improved corporate reputation, better worker morale, easier time attracting and retaining employees, broader innovation and productivity improvements as well.  In other words, energy efficiency is a CEO’s dream.”

Virtually every panelist and speaker emphasized a shifting approach to energy efficiency.  People in the energy field have done a terrible job demonstrating the positive economic impacts of being energy efficient, according to Suzanne Malec-McKeena, commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Environment.  Improving the energy efficiency of their buildings, transportation and operating procedures, she said, can be lucrative for companies.

Numerous company representatives talked about thinking big with their energy goals.  Instead of precisely analyzing an entire corporation’s energy usage, Rob Schasel, the director of energy and resource conservation at PepsiCo, recommends setting large, ambitious goals.

“By setting big goals you inspire people to get creative,” Schasel said.  “You can’t hit goals by doing the same business as usual.”

At PepsiCo, Schasel practices what he preaches.  Several years ago, PepsiCo set out to reduce their water use by 50 percent, fuel by 30 percent and electricity by 25 percent.

Such enormous objectives may seem overwhelming at first.  “We didn’t really know how we were going to get there,” Schasel said.  But by setting such high goals, he said, people were inspired to achieve because they felt involved with something bigger than themselves.  Between 2006 and 2008 PepsiCo saved $100 million by becoming more energy efficient.

Not all companies have this mindset when it comes to setting ambitious goals, but the conference panelists all agreed that reaching them will save money.

The Pew Center on Global Climate Change provides credible information, straight answers, and innovative solutions in an effort to address global climate change.The Pew Center on Global Climate Change provides credible information, straight answers, and innovative solutions in an effort to address global climate change.Several people attending the conference wondered if the companies in the Pew report that saved a lot of money initially would reach a savings plateau. Paul Vitello the director of environmental sustainability for United Technologies Corp., one of the companies involved in the study, said they haven’t reached a plateau yet.

As a matter of fact, he said United Technologies continues to find more savings and reductions.  He compared saving money through energy efficiency practices to finding $100 bills on the floor.  The company is still finding what Vitello called “low-hanging fruit.”

Listening to the panelists, it became clear that eventually all businesses will have to become energy efficient.  Most speakers urged the CEOs and business owners in the audience to start immediately, to stay ahead of the curve and start saving money and the environment now.

They spoke about companies in other parts of the world, specifically Europe, where carbon emissions are regulated. European companies are ahead of most of their U.S. counterparts regarding energy efficiency.  Peter Garforth, principal of Garforth International, LLC, explained the new thought process that moves companies closer to their communities.

"Think of your plant not as something to hide behind the hill away from the community,” he said, “but as a component of the community.”

Garforth has seen European companies integrate their utilities.  Two companies may build their factories and plants right next to each other and share utilities, a win-win for both companies.   Garforth urged businesses to integrate with their neighbors, suppliers, transporters and even, if legal, their competitors.

“It’s not complicated,” Garforth said.  “It’s not new technology. It’s thinking differently.”

To find out more about the Pew Center on Global Climate Change or to see the entire report “From Shop Floor to Top Floor: Best Business Practices for Energy Efficiency,” visit the Pew Center web site www.pewclimate.org/energy-efficiency/conference.

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