The Key to Scaling Energy Reduction? People.

by | May 13, 2016

As the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) convenes its Better Buildings Summit in Washington, DC, this week, it’s worth stating the obvious: reducing corporate energy consumption is hard.

Why? It involves people. Every individual in a corporation uses energy in one form or another, which makes cutting energy use a multi-stakeholder challenge.

So how do you solve a people problem? With people!

That’s what the Volvo Group discovered after embarking on a multi-year process to meet ambitious energy reduction goals for several of its manufacturing plants.

The people-centric approach paid off, enabling the Volvo Group to achieve a 25 percent energy reduction, five years ahead of schedule. And the best news of all: it’s a scalable model, not only across multiple plants, but across industries.

So, how can your company get there?

1.  Turn energy efficiency from a technical challenge into a people challenge.

Technology has come a long way, offering great operational ways to save energy. However, successful corporate initiatives ultimately comes from people taking action. With that in mind, the Volvo Group focused on the operational aspects of energy efficiency by engaging staff from multiple sites in “energy treasure hunts” (making a game out of rooting out waste) and creating a network to share best practices between facilities. Using a “learning by doing” approach to address the behavioral facets of proper management allowed the Volvo Group to walk away with a model for energy management that was scalable across all its manufacturing facilities.

2.  Look beyond your walls for support.

Attaining real reduction in energy intensity is a complicated undertaking, which is why partners are critical for additional support. Partners can provide best practices, toolkits and manpower to help accelerate implementation. By forging a series of alliances with other organizations, the Volvo Group was able to proceed further, faster, and more strategically than alone.

There are a wide range of partnerships that companies can employ – from working with NGOs to major companies. Key types of partnerships to consider include:

  • Signing performance-based contracts. Working with energy efficiency service companies can guarantee energy savings without up-front capital. The Volvo Group chose to partner with Siemens, a win-win solution that helped secure quick buy-in and rapid results.
    • Joining initiatives committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Partnering with programs that provide assistance—in the form of training and best-practice sharing—to reach industry-leading certification levels, can help a company move farther, faster. DOE’s Better Plants Program provided the Volvo Group’s New River Valley plant in Virginia a roadmap to reduce its energy intensity. The plant was able to achieve the Better Plants program goal of 25 percent in just one year. In addition, The Volvo Group achieved certification to DOE’s Superior Energy Performance program at several plants, which complied with ISO 50001 and produced independently certified energy savings.
    • Taking advantage of external expertise. Having an effective, temporary on-site resource to deliver hands-on help can fill gaps in expertise and empower companies to find new opportunities for reductions. By participating in EDF Climate Corps, the Volvo Group embedded a trained graduate student that identified energy savings opportunities by assessing factory operations, equipment and behavior. To date, the recommended projects could save the Volvo Group more than 9.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually.

While reducing corporate energy consumption is hard, the benefits are profound – for both the planet and the bottom line. To reap these rewards, it is crucial for companies to use people as part of the solution to move further, faster and more strategically.

Liz Delaney is the program director for EDF Climate Corps a program that embeds trained graduate students in organizations to help meet their energy goals by accelerating clean energy projects in their facilities. By working with over 350 organizations, Climate Corps has uncovered nearly $1.5 billion in energy savings — simultaneously improving the organization’s bottom line and environmental impact. You can find her on Twitter at @LizDelaneylobo

Bert Hill is the manager of Health, Safety and Environmental for Volvo Group North America. The Volvo Group is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of trucks, buses, construction equipment and marine and industrial engines. The Volvo Group, which employs about 100,000 people, has production facilities in 18 countries and sells its products in more than 190 markets. In 2015, the Volvo Group’s sales amounted to about $37 billion. The Volvo Group is a publicly-held company headquartered in Gothenburg, Sweden.

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