The Better Buildings Challenge Swap Involves Organizations Swapping Energy Teams to Uncover New Energy Efficiency Strategies

Better Buildings Challenge SWAP

Eavesdropping. Who hasn’t been guilty of listening in on a conversation at a conference or in a boardroom and thinking:“That’s a good idea. I’ll have to remember that.” Energy professionals are no exception. The desire to learn from others and keep up with the latest thinking is easier to achieve when coming from our peers—people who have the same jobs we do. When it comes to improving energy efficiency, many professionals have welcomed the chance to learn and discover new solutions from not only their peers, but from competitors and even other industries.

Sometimes these new ideas are things that have never been considered and sometimes they are ideas that have been considered but rejected as being “too risky” or have too long a payback. That’s the motivation behind the Better Buildings Challenge SWAP, a new initiative from the U.S. Department of Energy, Washington, D.C. It involves two industry giants from completely different sectors swapping energy teams to uncover new energy-efficiency strategies and further accelerate each company’s energy-reduction goals.

Both teams realized the power of the “human touch” in increasing energy savings.

Both teams realized the power of the “human touch” in increasing energy savings.

This past December I joined Hilton Worldwide and Whole Foods Market as we conducted our first SWAP. Hilton Worldwide and Whole Foods Market are Better Buildings Challenge partners, which means they have set a goal of 20 percent energy-intensity reduction within 10 years across their entire building portfolios. As different as they may seem at first blush, both energy teams share a passion to constantly innovate and a desire to get better at what they already do well.

We were excited to work with these companies from completely different sectors; both are influential in their fields with nationwide reach. It allowed us to demonstrate that two very different environments, facilities and user experiences could in fact learn from each other. Each company opened its San Francisco properties (Hilton San Francisco Union Square and Whole Foods Market on Ocean Avenue) and invited the other to examine their energy infrastructure to find ways to improve their energy management and drive even greater sustainability.

The Whole Foods Market team toured the largest hotel on the West Coast, a total of 1.8 million square feet operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Its 1,200 employees are responsible for not only delivering the best service to its more than 900,000 guests annually in its 1,901 guest rooms, but also helping ensure the hotel meets its energy-reduction goals.

Hilton Worldwide’s team faced a different challenge, taking on a much more compact 25,600-square-foot facility. While the store also operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it’s only open to customers from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Whole Foods’ 220 employees—more than half are college students— also are key team members to help the company save energy.

Although very different, both teams worked together, learned from each other’s innovative approaches and found ways to save more energy at both properties.

What Did the Teams Learn?

HVAC is an important factor for establishing a good customer experience for Whole Foods Market and Hilton Worldwide. Making sure HVAC is integrated properly with other systems—whether that’s kitchens or refrigeration—makes a big impact on the overall energy consumption of the building and the comfort of the customers. Aside from Hilton Worldwide’s guidelines of seeing, listening and feeling for problems, both parties recognize the actions of their employees and guests make a big impact on HVAC use.

Both teams used sophisticated energy-measurement and tracking systems and those were on display during the SWAP. Hilton Worldwide requires each of its hotels set an annual target for energy reduction and they have to report progress through their measurement system called “Light Stay”. As a result of their efforts, they’ve seen more than $550 million saved through energy-, water- and waste-efficiency projects. Whole Foods Market’s stores have a variety of areas with different energy needs, including refrigeration, kitchen, deli and underground parking. Each area is closely measured for its baseline energy use and the results of specific energy-efficiency interventions, such as overhead lighting or strip curtains.

About the Author

Maria T. Vargas
Maria T. Vargas is director of the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Department of Energy Better Buildings Challenge.

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