Five Common Corporate Energy Efficiency Roadblocks Identified

Five key roadblocks to improving energy efficiency at companies were identified by an industry panel at the very successful Fortune Brainstorm Green conference, held this month in Laguna Niguel, California.

The panel included Gwen Ruta, vice president, Corporate Partnerships at the Environmental Defense Fund; Gretchen Hancock, project manager for Corporate Environmental Programs at GE; Bill Weihl, Google’s Green Energy czar; and Beth Trask, deputy director of EDF’s Innovation Exchange.

The panel represented some of the most informed thinking on implementing cost savings through energy efficiency; as benefit to all of us that weren’t there, EDF provided a five-point summary of some of its key findings on the Innovation Exchange blog. I’ve summarized them below. 

Information Overload: We all experience it, there’s a billion different projects and possibilities flying at us at once; for someone tasked with improving energy efficiency in an organization, the same is true. GE has (partly) tackled this problem with its energy “treasure hunts,” which bring together employees for three day brainstorming sessions on how to reduce waste. They typically identify opportunities to reduce energy expenditures by 20 percent, Ms. Hancock said.

Structural Limitations: Corporate siloing is a major problem with finding efficiency opportunities, because what may be of advantage to one department could cost another. For instance, R&D may be reluctant to spend time and money on improvements that will benefit the facilities management department. And their respective heads may have little or nothing to do with each other. Google takes a “total cost approach” to the problem. GE’s treasure hunts, specifically bringing together employees from many different departments, get better results the more diverse the mix.

Lack of Humility: Employees are attracted to big ideas–solar panels on the roof, EV chargers in the parking lot, etc. etc. But the fact is energy efficiency is a drip-drip process, that needs to be measured on a continuous basis, not dependent on “one-off events.”

Cultural Resistance: This is an obvious point (see my “sixth” roadblock, below) but I will repeat it: many execs think they’ve already done energy efficiency. But new methods and technologies pop up all the time. There are always opportunities.

ROI Demands: Convincing CFOs to spend on projects that do not have an immediate payoff is difficult, especially when the market is demanding returns. But this sort of short-term thinking “can leave serious money on the table,” Innovation Exchange reports.

My sixth take-away: If this stuff sounds super familiar, it is. People love green conferences, workshops and forums like Fortune Brainstorm Green, but the fact is 90 percent of the content in these events (and the blog posts about them, ahem) has been said many many times before (much of it echoed as common sense).

Does that mean it’s useless? Absolutely not. Think of these pointers as the twelve steps of Alcoholic’s Anonymous, or pointers from self-help books. You hear them over and over again, and then one day, they click in a way they never had before.

That said, I would add one additional way to increase energy efficiency, based on a comment on EDF’s blog: raise electricity prices. That’ll get executives scrambling!

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.

One response

  1. The post says that GE's brainstorming sessions, called treasure hunts, “typically identify opportunities to reduce energy expenditures by 20 percent.” Let's put that in perspective. In our wildest dreams, solar energy will not reduce our expenditures on carbon-based fuels by anywhere near 20% in the next five years. Why isn't every company holding treasure hunts?

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