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Sunday, 11 November 2012 20:11

New tool helps companies track energy-saving efforts

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WEST MICHIGAN — Well-intentioned companies can say they’re trying to be sustainable, but if they don’t have a way to track their activities, they may not be getting the most out of their efforts.

That’s the point of the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum’s Energy Assessment Guide, released today as a second phase of its primary self-assessment guide launched earlier this year.

The new guide aims to provide companies with access to easy-to-use sustainability information and resources and to start users down a benchmarking process that could ultimately help companies around the region.

“While companies might be focusing 80 percent of their attention on the key things, there could be some areas companies aren’t looking at that we want to point out,” said Milton Roye, president and CEO of ENRG Power System LLC and a member of the WMSBF. “We’re looking for ‘aha!’ moments.”

In January, the WMSBF received a $34,900 grant from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Pollution Prevention grant to help get a sustainability assessment project off the ground. The grant helps cover the cost of licensing the software for the 60 WMSBF members participating in the program.

The project is meant to help WMSBF members self-assess and track their sustainability efforts, with the ultimate goal of creating a regional database of public metrics.

With the energy assessment guide, the project is moving into phase two. Beyond the original self-assessment survey, other WMSBF project groups in waste and social responsibility are getting close to rolling out more detailed secondary assessment surveys.

The new surveys are powered by software called Chalk and Wire, which was developed primarily for institutional education purposes. The program allows companies to create online portfolios, update their progress and share information such as white papers, studies and other surveys.

The individual energy, waste and social responsibility surveys are part of the deliverables the state expects for the grant, said Lisa Locke, WMSBF administrator and project manager.

As MiBiz previously reported, the system aims to drive improvements in operations that could be tracked by a company and aggregated by region to determine its effectiveness. The tool could also help identify knowledge gaps that groups like the WMSBF could address through specific programming, Locke said.

With the sub group surveys focused specifically on individual sectors, WMSBF members said they hope to capture and highlight areas that even the most sustainability driven companies may have overlooked. There is a lot of “leakage” in assets such as office equipment that companies may not even realize, Roye said.

Locke said the program is an easy entry point to learning about sustainability efforts. She said the original self-assessment guide and the data already collected showed some of the poorest performance scores were in energy.

The goal of the program is to keep the sustainability conversation going, whether that’s focused on wasted energy thanks to electronics or fueling options for fleet vehicles, officials said.

“There are finite things and little steps you can take,” Roye said. “Like a lot of people, I used to leave lights on all the time. Then I joined this committee. Now every time I walk into a men’s room and the lights are on, my blood pressure spikes. Why don’t they have an occupancy sensor?”

Roye said sustainability efforts appear to be following a general pattern. It starts with discretionary action, followed by the development and implementation of cost-saving and energy-conserving technology. The next step is taking those practices that promote sustainability and embedding them culturally, both within companies and externally in society.

“Companies have recognized that (adopting sustainability measures) discretionally doesn’t work (because) people can’t be bothered,” Roye said. “(Companies) can do a lot with relatively low investments to take these practices away from discretionary or ‘operator error’ to technology.”

No matter the size of the company, the success of sustainability measures comes down to the bottom line and measuring their impact, he said.

The WMSBF partnered with Muskegon County and The Employers Association of West Michigan in applying for the grant. Part of Muskegon County’s award will support The Employers Association’s Universal Waste Management Forum.

At the end the two-year grant period, depending on the results, the state has the ability to take part ownership of the program and share it across the state and beyond.

“The whole purpose of this is to do it in a finite, closed community, get the bugs out, get through the initial study and then the second round hopefully a year from now,” Roye said. “Nothing ever works the first time, so at the end of the two years, it should be ready to share statewide and potentially nationally.”

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