EC 005: Energy Walks


For the 5th episode, I am posting the 4th part of a 5 part video course, called W.A.S.T.E. Walks.

This episode introduces the “Energy Walks” to help reduce and conserve energy usage, which reduces carbon emissions and minimizes climate change.

You can view the video version of this course for free by contacting us, so we can send you the free coupon code for the video course.

The following episode will summarize the walk process used to plan, conduct, combine ideas and decide on actions to implement.

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Energy Walks are a powerful and effective approach to reduce energy usage in your facility or company. Based on lean principles, this approach will help engage your employee in identifying opportunities, organize their ideas, and prioritizing those ideas down to the top 3 opportunities to pursue.

This training is based on the Lean and Energy Toolkit, developed by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which can be downloaded for free at

An energy walk encourages employees and managers from the work area to form a team, and take a walk around the work setting (whether it’s the factory floor or the office), and together make observations and identify how energy is currently being used. This can be hard to determine from a electricity or heating utility bill alone.

The team looks for “low-hanging fruit” opportunities that can reduce energy usage with minimal costs. Most often, there are behavioral or procedural changes that can be made that don’t require capital expenses. Since we are involving the workers and managers in the area, we don’t have to guess at why the energy is being used. Having a few people on the team from outside the area is also a good idea, to challenge why the energy is needed in the process, and to see energy waste that is overlooked by those who work in the area.

The event also focuses the team on walking the flow of energy into and out from the facility, instead of looking at each individual process as a stand-alone. Similar to a value stream mapping event, there may be opportunities to save energy between process steps or make adjustments in one area to minimize the overall energy usage. One company actually increased the energy usage in an upfront process step by increasing the water temperature during cleaning. This eliminated a rework process at the back end of the process, which saved time and reduced overall energy usage.

Now that we’ve explained an energy treasure hunt or energy walk, let’s compare it to how we reduce energy usage today.

What method have you used?

  • Hiring expensive consultants to give you ideas?
  • Go right to the quick solution of replacing equipment, which costs lots of money, and will not likely make it into the budget?
  • Meet with managers (not workers) to brainstorm ideas?
  • Impose a reduction goal across the board to everyone, instead of analyzing where there are true opportunities?
  • Replace equipment or light bulbs when they fail, which is very reactive? Or maybe you just wait until you renovate an area to put in newer lights and motion controls? The delay in implementation can waste thousands of dollars in energy costs.
  • Maybe you send out emails telling people to shut off devices when they leave, but with no follow up or enforcement?
  • Or have you done nothing to reduce energy today? Maybe it’s considered the “cost of doing business” and not seen as an opportunity?

Using the energy walk approach is a more effective method to reduce energy usage

There are a couple names for an energy walk, such as energy gemba walk, energy go and see, energy kaizen, and energy treasure hunt

General Electric (also called GE) received some mentoring help from Toyota to develop a formal Energy Treasure Hunt process for their facilities. They conducted over 200 events with 3500 employees, which identified 5000 kaizen projects. These projects will eventually result in the reduction of 700,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions and $111M in savings.

These examples are provided in the EPA’s Lean, Energy and Climate Toolkit. A link is provided in the Resources section of the course.

Let’s take a look at some typical examples from a energy walk (which is also known as an energy kaizen event)

  • The main supply fans were found to be running 24 hours per day, so the team identified an improvement action (or counter measure) to change the schedule for running the non-critical systems. It was estimated that it could save $47,000 in savings if implemented.
  • Room lights were always left on, and more bright than needed, so the team estimated that motion sensors and reducing the number of lamps would save $25,000 per year.

Overall, the team was able to identify $161,000 in savings opportunity after the energy walk without requiring outside consultants or experts.

During the Prepare phase, gather energy data from the facility, and review the results for trends and changes. Entering the last 2 years of data into a spreadsheet is recommended.

The average energy cost per month should be used as the case for change. If there were any previous energy audits performed in the area, they should be reviewed to see if there are goods ideas that can be implemented right away.

The next step is to gather your most knowledgeable staff and employees (usually Facilities and Maintenance staff) to identify the primary energy drivers in the area, where the team should focus during the event. These items are usually large in size, require 3 phase power, or run constantly.

Next, the leadership team should determine the right team members for the event. Employees who are both opponents of energy reduction programs, and those who have influence in the area should be considered.

Finally, the leadership should find dates and times that work best for the team members, and schedule the event. It is more important to get the right people into the event, so you should consider delaying or moving the event to accommodate availability.

The information should be placed on the Planning Worksheet.

During the actual energy walk event, there are four primary sessions when observations will be made, but can vary by the type and size of your facility.

The first session is “off shift” which is conducted when there is no work going on. This is typically done on weekends or at nights. The team will be looking for items left on that should or could be turned off.

The second session is “start-up” which is conducted when the workers in the area arrive at work and start to turn on items, such as equipment, lights, and heating and cooling systems. When do the workers turn on the lights and equipment, when they arrive, or when they need to use it?

The third session is “working time” which is conducted when the work is being done, and should include breaks. The team will be looking to see what happens to energy usage when workers go on break, or leave for lunch and what they do when they come back. Do they set equipment into standby mode, or leave it up and running? You may need multiple sessions to observe all the breaks during the day.

The last formal session is “shut down and transfer” which is conducted when workers leave for the day, or when a new shift comes into the work area. Do items get turned off, put in standby mode, or left on during the transition. Do items get turned off during the weekend but not during the week?

Depending on the size of the facility and area, you could break the team into smaller sub teams, so you can cover more area during the 1-2 hour observation period of a session.  Each sub team should have at least one person who works in that area, one technical person who knows about the lighting, equipment and HVAC equipment, and at least one person who is not familiar with the area, to bring a fresh set of eyes.

During your walk, make sure you seek out the following areas and type of equipment that exists in your facility.

The list of key areas also comes from the Lean and Energy Toolkit, which is linked in the Resources section.

The categories include: Process and Equipment, Cooling and Heating, Sanitary and Domestic, Other Facility Support (such as floor washing, dust emission controls, and landscaping), and kitchens.

If your facility has one of these items on the list, make sure you spend sufficient time in that area, as they may provide big opportunities to reduce energy usage.

But don’t we need to use energy in our facility?

Yes, energy can be an important piece of how your facility operates. However, there may be situations where the energy is not being used in an essential or valuable way.

During the walk, you should try to separate out when energy is being used in a value-added way (something the customer is willing to pay for), from when it is used in a non-value added way (something the customer would not be willing to pay for).

For example, when energy is used to heat and cool the work area, to make employees feel comfortable and control the quality of the process, then it would be a valuable use of energy.

Testing equipment left on overnight when not being used would be a non-value added use of energy.

Using computers to conduct a teleconference with remote employees to save travel costs would be a value added use of energy.

Heating and cooling a room that is not occupied would be a non-value added use of energy.

You should start by reducing the non-value added energy uses first, then work on improving the efficiency of the value-added energy usage. The non-value added usage is often less expensive to resolve.

Another way to get teams started in their observations is by providing them with this EPA energy use checklist.

Some example questions on the checklist are as follows:

  • Are there unnecessary lights or heat left on?
  • Are there areas where lighting seems too bright or unnecessary or focused in the wrong areas?
  • Where is compressed air being used? What is it being used for, and is it being used inappropriately (such as drying parts)?
  • Can you hear or feel air leaks?

Not all questions on the checklist will be applicable, so feel free to modify the list or add to it to better align with the facility.

There are a few simple devices that can be provided to the teams to help them identify opportunities.

To assist in answering some of the lighting questions, a light meter can be used, that measures the foot candles of light from each area, and compare it to lighting requirements in the area.

A Kill-A-Watt device can be used to measure the electricity usage of items that plug into a wall or power strip, such as a refrigerator, computer or copier.

To measure the electricity of larger devices, a power meter will be needed, which can be setup and measured by an electrician.

Links are provided in the Resources section to order these devices.

Some people have told us that they had an energy audit performed and received a list of good improvements. Why would you need an energy walk, and why start with the energy walk first?

The reason we recommend an energy walk first is because the goal is not to just save energy, but build a culture of energy conservation.

Most energy audits do not have the time to dig into each work process, in order to identify behavior-related opportunities. The “energy walk” approach allows the workers to compare what they do with what uses energy, and identify ways to change their behaviors to save energy.

These solutions will typically require less capital, and will be more likely implemented and maintained by those in the work area, since they helped come up with the improvements. Although technical expertise is good to have, it’s not required when you’re first getting started with energy reduction, as you will find many “low-hanging” fruit opportunities.

Engaging the employees in this event is critical to changing the culture. The energy walk educates employees on the cost and impact of energy within the facility, and why it’s important to the company. It also teaches what opportunities to look for, and this will continue to happen long after the event is over. They will also be willing to share what they learned with those in their work area that were not in the event. This overall approach creates ownership for energy usage in the work area, which helps establish the foundation for the culture change of energy conservation.

Another reason why energy walks are a good starting point is due to the cost. Although there is cost in having the employees take time out of their work to participate (including some overtime hours), the payback should be quick, and it will be much less expensive than an audit.

Once an energy walk is conducted, and the best ideas implemented, then an energy audit would be a great next step for the team.

The reason why energy walks are so successful is because they help identify many of the behavioral changes and improvements in a process, that require little or no capital investment. That is why we need workers from the area directly involved in the event.

These conservation and low cost solutions should be implemented before any capital investments, retrofits and renewable energy installations. That being said, energy walks will also identify improvements that may require capital investments, but that is not the primary intent.

Conserving energy is the most powerful approach to saving natural resources. Due to inefficiencies in how fossil fuels are mined, transported and processed, only one third of the materials actually end up being used for energy. Therefore, there will be 3 times the amount of material savings when you avoid or prevent energy usage.

Be sure to check out the Videos section, showing videos about energy treasure hunts performed at GE and the Orlando Citrus Bowl, along with a webinar that goes into more details about the treasure hunt process. If we find additional videos, we will add them to the training.