In the realm of corporate sustainability and social responsibility, employee engagement has become a very popular topic. Companies are looking for ways to leverage the knowledge and ingenuity of their employees in efforts to integrate smarter decision-making around sustainability issues more deeply into their businesses. At the same time, they are also trying to create better work environments and more fulfilled employees. There are several companies that have created employee engagement programs that achieve these goals. However, as I discussed in a previous article on the subject, many organizations are still struggling to design successful programs that go beyond recycling and ride sharing.
The Environmental Defense Fund, which is well known for its Climate Corp Program, has been working with GE on an approach to employee engagement that’s been proven to provide a significant return while also creating opportunities for employees to gain a stake in sustainability efforts. As Beth Trask, EDF’s Deputy Director of Innovation Exchange explains on their blog, these Treasure Hunts are “dynamic, hands-on events that resemble a cross between an energy audit and a scavenger hunt.”
Depending on the complexity of the facility being “hunted,” each event lasts between one and three days and involves teams of employees who collaborate to identify and quantify energy saving opportunities. Every aspect of the facility’s operation is fair game including lighting, HVAC systems, office equipment, and manufacturing operations.
The concept may sound simple, but the potential results are significant. At the Roosevelt Hospital in New York City, $2.1 million in energy savings were identified with a payback period of only 2.6 years. GE has conducted over 200 internal treasure hunts across all their business units which have yielded a total of $150 million in cost savings opportunities.
Although GE does have a program to work with companies to conduct treasure hunts along with GE experts, there are more resources being developed to help companies conduct them with the help of local energy providers and other stakeholders. GE recently published their Eco Treasure Hunt Checklist which is a great resource to help companies plan and execute these events. E-Efficiency Partners also offers an overview of how the treasure hunt process should be carried out. And the EPA has developed a toolkit on “kaizen events,” which are the type of improvement opportunities that the treasure hunt process is designed to identify.
Eco Treasure Hunts are only one way of engaging employees on sustainability issues; but given their proven ability to get tangible results, they’re a good first engagement project to try. If executed properly, these projects also have the potential to empower employees and give them the opportunity to have an impact that’s good for the environment as well as their employer’s bottom line.
Kara Scharwath is a corporate social responsibility professional, marketing consultant and Sustainable Management MBA Candidate. She is currently working as a Graduate Associate in Corporate Citizenship at the Walt Disney Company while pursuing her degree at Presidio Graduate School. Follow her on Twitter @karameredith.