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How to Conduct a Treasure Hunt

Earlier this month, we took an in-depth look at how companies are conducting rigorous treasure hunts for energy efficiency projects. Going beyond case studies, here's a step-by-step primer to help your firm get started.

Energy represents one the fastest-rising expenses for many companies and shows no sign of becoming less volatile in the coming years. Boosting efficiency is one way for companies to address energy costs, but many don't know where to start.

Assigning one of a company's most valuable assets to the cause -- employees -- can generate a raft of low-cost efficiency projects that might add thousands of dollars to the bottom line.The process is called a Treasure Hunt, first conceived by Toyota more than a decade ago.

The methodology and concept have been adopted and adapted by GE and other companies, but the original objective remains the same: engage workers to find waste in the system and quantify the potential savings opportunities.

GreenBiz interviewed sources from Environmental Defense Fund, GE and Exopack about the process. While each company uses their own proprietary processes and systems, these are some of the common actions and themes that emerged in the discussions. For more details, see the resources at the end of this list, and look out for the upcoming Treasure Hunt checklist under development by EDF and GE.

Before the Hunt:

• Get management buy-in: As with any sustainability initiative, getting buy-in from the top is key. It will have an impact on the amount of resources dedicated to the Treasure Hunt, the mindset of the teams participating, and the implementation of efficiency projects that come out of it. If you can get some of your senior-level executives to participate, all the better.

• Analyze your facility and plan your teams: Dedicate your resources to the areas where you use the most energy. Is lighting your biggest impact? Form a lighting team that will specifically look for opportunities to use less lighting-related energy. Or perhaps separate teams by building or floor. "Start with how your using energy -- the energy-using functions -- and map that to your buildings," said Beth Trask, deputy director of EDF's Innovation Exchange. "Then figure out how to break that down into different teams that make sense." Bring in employees from a range of functions who know how the facility and processes work.

• Decide which external experts are needed: It may make sense to add outside experts or vendors when some serious technical knowledge is needed. "Let's say you have a team looking at HVAC, you want to make sure you have some serious technical knowledge on that team so you might invite your HVAC contract company to come and participate," Trask said. "What you don't want to do is fill a team with external parties because you lose the employee engagement piece and the opportunity to bring in fresh ideas."

• Gather historic energy data to establish baseline energy use and expenses: How many kilowatt hours of energy do you buy every year, by source (i.e. coal, natural gas, etc.)? How much does each type cost per kilowatt hour? This will be needed to set goals and perform calculations. Manufacturing sites may need data on the amount of compressed air purchased and at what cost.

• Identify and train team leaders: Teach them how the Treasure Hunt will work, their role and goals so they can answer questions and get the teams started. They also need to know how to crunch the numbers. Many Treasure Hunt teams use pre-designed spreadsheets populated with energy data so team leaders must be trained to input the data and perform the calculations.

• What's your goal? Do you want to identify projects that will reduce associated energy use by 10 percent, 15 percent? "You would base that on your average annual energy spend," Trask said. "A very rough rule of thumb is that you can find between 10 to 20 percent savings in a given Treasure Hunt."

• Set up logistics: Decide how long Treasure Hunt will last -- some larger sites may require 2.5-3 days, others may only need a day to evaluate three modes: shut-down, ramp up and full production. "We're trying to catch all three phases because there's obviously different energy usage for each of those phases," said Howard Mikytuck, an Access GE team member. "We're again looking for any waste in the system, i.e. motors turning on before they should be, or motors turning on too fast, they never went into a ramp-up mode, they went into full production." Don't forget the catering (maybe coffee and donuts in the morning or a pizza party at the end of the event), and if it fits into your company culture, consider springing for company logo T-shirts or some other memento to help participants view the event as a big deal.

The Treasure Hunt:

• Orientation: Welcome the group and describe how the event will play out, including timeline, orientation of the buildings, which energy sources will be targeted, goals and methodology. "I went on to explain to the team that what we're really trying to do is reset our slope," said Paul Kearns, vice president of marketing at Exopack, which recently conducted a Treasure Hunt (see story). "Today, if we don't do anything and energy prices keep going up, our costs are just going to go up at the same rate as energy prices, because even the raw materials derive from oil." Don't assume people know everything. Explain the "5 Whys"-- Ask a lot of questions, and each question should be followed by at least four more to get to the root of the issue. Interview workers either on the team or onsite to understand the processes.

• Break out into teams: Maybe start with a tour of the facility to get behind the scenes and poke around places some haven't visited before. Make sure you walk through at each phase of operation: shut down, ramp up and full production. Don't forget the 5 Whys. Use your senses: Do you hear motors running when the facility is in shut-down mode?

• Create List of Project Ideas: Develop, brainstorm and refine your working list of ideas for process changes or new equipment. Quantify the return on investment for individual projects, as well as the annualized savings in terms of money, energy and emissions.

• Present Top Level Findings to Site Management: Present the findings and learnings to senior executives, including the top ideas, how much they will cost and how much they will save, in terms of energy, money and carbon emissions. Compile into a report that can be used as a tool to help guide your energy management program.

After the Hunt:

• Act: Examine which projects need a second look and additional research, which projects can be implemented right away, and which can be fed into existing processes for capital improvements or operating budgets.

• Communicate results: Keep momentum going and maintain interest by sharing the results from project implementations.

• Repeat: The Treasure Hunt shouldn't be a one-off endeavor. "What's interesting is you can find that 15 to 20 percent (savings) every time you do a Treasure Hunt every year or two years," Trask said. "You're always going to find things." Consider bringing in workers from other facilities if you operate multiple sites to replicate the process throughout the system.


• GE's ecomagination website offers several case studies from Treasure Hunts it conducted at different sites.

• An overview from E-Efficiency Partners that nicely synthesizes the steps in a Treasure Hunt while also adding tips and advice.

• EPA background on Kaizen events, which means continuous improvements, a philosophy espoused by Toyota.

• Look out for an upcoming checklist from EDF and GE on Treasure Hunts.

Miner photo from Shutterstock.

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