Over the last five years, teams of General Electric (GE) employees have scoured the company’s various facilities in pursuit of a common enemy: wasted energy.
With eyes peeled for unnecessary lights and underperforming equipment, the teams’ sole mission revolved around making the sites more efficient. Since 2005, more than 200 of these exercises, called Treasure Hunts, revealed energy savings exceeding $130 million.
Now the company is expanding the program beyond its facilities to include hospitals, universities, city buildings and private sites through a new collaboration with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). The sites, which include existing GE customers, will learn how to conduct treasure hunts, while GE and EDF will work to verify the energy savings and identify and disseminate industry best practices.
GE has already demonstrated that the Treasure Hunt program, which is part of the company’s wide-ranging ecomagination initiative, works in other settings. A Treasure Hunt held last month at Continuum Health Partners’ (CHP) Roosevelt Hospital in New York uncovered energy savings opportunities totaling $2.1 million, with an average payback of 2.6 years. That translates to more than 7,500 metric tons of emissions reductions each year.
The next sites for Treasure Hunts will include facilities for Merck, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the cities of Orlando and Atlanta.
The No. 1 criteria for an ideal Treasure Hunt site is enthusiasm, said Beth Trask, EDF’s Innovation Exchange deputy director who also works with the organization’s Corporate Partnership Program.
“There needs to be buy-in at the management level, front line level, and everywhere else for a Treasure Hunt to work,” Trask said. “It’s about an entire site team getting involved. You have to really want to do this.”
Trask described a Treasure Hunt as a “high-energy event.” After participants complete the training and planning stages, teams spend about 2.5 days doing nothing but looking for energy efficiency opportunities, typically beginning on a Sunday when there is less activity at the facility. At the end of the exercise, the teams compile a report that quantifies the potential savings with estimated return on investment and recommended plan of action.
“Everyone is involved,” Trask said. “Not everything has a dollar attached — maybe they just turned lights off.”