As many energy experts wring their hands and fret over peak oil or debating the scalability of alternative forms of energy, estimates suggest that Americans can reduce their energy consumption between 20 and 25% by adopting cost-effective energy efficiency methods alone.
One of the USA’s iconic companies and a leading environmental advocacy NGO to develop strategies to improve the energy efficiency of businesses. Since 2005, General Electric (GE) has performed over 200 “Treasure Hunts,” in which GE experts work with organizations’ onsite staff to recommend enhancements to reduce energy waste. The results have saved over $130 million thanks to an average of 20% reduction in energy use, while training 3000 employees. Now GE has brought on the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF); the organizations’ combined efforts will serve to share more ideas and best practices across more industries and sectors.
Over the next several months, GE and EDF will conduct these treasure hunts with the cities of Orlando and Atlanta, The University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, as well as the pharmaceutical giant Merck. Adopting the Japanese business practice of kaizen (process improvement), both organizations will contribute staff that scour its partners’ operations, from shut-down mode to peak business hours, working with its partnering organizations to identify opportunities to reduce the consumption of energy and natural resources.
Some of the treasure hunts required energy audits, such as the one at Manhattan’s Roosevelt Hospital, which saved the facility $2.1 million in energy costs—while recouping its investment in only a little over 30 months. Other projects fostered more innovative approaches, such as a cargo vessel that GE retrofitted with an enormous parasail, which worked like a kite during the ship’s voyage from New York to Turkey, reducing the journey’s fuel needs anywhere from 10 to 35%.
For partners that engage in one of these treasure hunts, the largest benefit is of course, cost savings—in part because GE does not charge for the projects. Instead of hiring outside consulting firms, which can drag out such an initiative, the partner needs to only contribute staff. In the long run, that can only benefit an organization, since any knowledge learned stays within the organization.
Gwen Ruta, EDF vice president for Corporate Partnerships, sums up the GE/EDF partnership’s potential:
Trillions of dollars in energy savings are up for grabs in the United States. Working with GE, we’re making it possible for cities and towns, hospitals and universities and businesses of all sizes to ferret out the valuable energy treasure buried in their own backyards.
The reality is that fossil fuels will be part of the energy mix for a long time—the treasure hunts offer a chance to save money and energy that can go towards an organization’s other needs—and quickly gain an ROI on such an investment.