Industrial Utility Efficiency

IUE-CWA Labor Union Members Embrace Energy Treasure Hunts

Manufacturers familiar with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ENERGY STAR® Energy Treasure Hunts initiative know it’s a great way to save energy and natural resources – as long as it’s done right – which is why some are turning to perhaps their best asset to achieve success: their unionized workforce.

Such is the case with energy treasure hunts led by the IUE-CWA. The IUE is industrial division of the Communication Workers of America labor union. The IUE represents over 45,000 manufacturing and industrial workers in a wide range of industries including automotive, aerospace, furniture, and appliances. 

The IUE-CWA Energy Treasure Hunt team

The IUE-CWA Energy Treasure Hunt team conducts a recent energy treasure hunt at Northstar Aerospace Inc. in Bedford Park, Illinois.

IUE-CWA Energy Treasure Hunt Coordinator Bill Draves said companies who don’t already engage union employees have come to value how someone working on the plant floor can contribute to a successful effort. Equally important is how production employees appreciate the opportunity to make a difference.



Bill DravesIUE-CWA Energy Treasure Hunt Coordinator Bill Draves.

“After the process of an energy treasure hunt gets going employees who work on the floor often say, ‘Oh man. There’s a lot of money here to be saved.’ They soon realize they’re empowered to do something about it and take part in a project that contributes to everyone’s success. Their involvement in energy savings, as with others throughout a company, is critical.”


Overcoming the ‘Fear Factor’ to Save Energy

Since 2011, the energy treasure hunt team at IUE-CWA has worked side by side with manufacturer after manufacturer to help implement successful treasure hunts and identify annual energy savings opportunities ranging from \$50,000 to \$500,000 at each operation.

While the concept of using union members to conduct energy treasure hunts is usually welcomed with open arms there are some companies who are initially hesitant to do so, Draves said.

“The fear factor is that it’s a union project, which stems from false expectations and the history of unions and management relationships at different companies during different times,” he said. “But after we get the process going, decision-makers start to see there’s nothing behind it except to make the company more profitable. That’s when the proverbial lightbulb goes on and they start to say, ‘Wait a minute. This isn’t fairytale stuff. It’s real.’ ’’

There are also times, Draves said, when the lightbulb goes on immediately after the IUE-CWA team first explains the purpose of the initiative and how it works.

“We like to make it clear, we’re here to help. We’re looking to make the plant better and to save money,” he said. “Our mission is to add to the bottom line of the plant and we’re going to help preserve jobs. That’s the premise.”


Pilot Project Leads to IUE-CWA Program

The IUE-CWA energy treasure hunt program started when the team began working with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Bruce Bremer of Bremer Energy on a pilot program at a manufacturer in Ohio.

On the project, the IUE-CWA team worked hand in hand with Bremer, a pioneer in energy treasure hunts who is credited with leading the development of the foundation for the program. To read more about Bremer and the genesis of energy treasure hunts, visit

IUE-CWA Lead Trainer Ken Hess said the pilot project pointed to an excellent opportunity for both the union and member companies.

“The first pilot project was an eye-opener,” Hess said. “What caught my attention was the ability to identify and quantify wasted energy and put it into dollars and cents that everyone can understand.”

Hess said most plants the IUE-CWA team partners with already understand how compressed air represents low-hanging fruit for energy savings. But there’s much more to it, he said.

“Compressed air is kind of a no-brainer as far as energy savings, but most don’t understand the cost behind it. When they do, it’s one of those ah-ha moments. But you can’t just focus on compressed air since there’s many more opportunities with different systems,” Hess said.

Ken HessKen Hess, IUE-CWA Lead Trainer.

After completing the initial pilot phase with the EDF, the IUE-CWA committed program resources to conduct energy treasure hunts on a regular basis at small- to mid-size manufacturing plants who employ IUE-CWA members. Today, the IUE-CWA energy treasure hunt team is comprised of Draves, Hess, and two other IUE-CWA members, Sean Diglaw and Jon Parkhurst.

The overriding goal of the program, which is funded by union dues, is to teach hourly workers and decision-makers the many easy ways to identify no- and low-cost energy savings opportunities with immediate or short-term ROI and implement successful initiatives. Opportunities for energy efficiency are found in operational areas and all plant utilities including compressed air, chilled water, water, steam, and lighting, as well as electricity and natural gas.


Energy Treasure Hunt Techniques that Work

The IUE-CWA team uses a variety of proven and unique methods and techniques to ensure successful launches of energy treasure hunts. One technique is to set clear expectations, said Draves.

“The engineering manager or plant manager we’re talking with is a person who wears many hats,” he said. “The first thing they often think of when we talk to them is, ‘Oh, Good gosh. I can’t take on more work.’ But then we make our purpose clear, which is to take a lot of that extra work out of it for them.”

The team also stresses the ease of which energy treasure hunts are conducted and the free tools available, such as the EPA’s Detail Sheet, which is an Excel spreadsheet designed to help easily quantify energy-savings opportunities. 

Most IUE-CWA led energy treasure hunts start on a Saturday or Sunday with a walk-through audit of equipment and processes when production and energy use is lowest. The walk-through identifies areas of opportunity. The team then follows the established process for energy treasure hunts, including a three-day workshop and subsequent recommendations and various follow-up activities.

Draves said the importance of involving cross-functional teams in energy treasure hunts cannot be understated. He said inclusion of people who work in production day in and day out is especially important.

“The guy on the floor sees things at a granular level. He knows how production flows in his department as good if not better than anybody. He’s the guy who hears the compressed air leak hissing, or questions why the plant doesn’t shut down a machine when it’s not used. His participation is invaluable,” he said.

Draves said involving managers, maintenance staff and skilled tradesmen throughout any given plant is equally vital.

“At the managerial level, they understand the dollars and cents of energy and the importance of energy-savings from a 10,0000-foot view,” he said. “At the same time, the maintenance and skilled trade people see things managers never see that need to be addressed. Everyone sees the plant and the energy use through a different set of eyes.”

The IUE-CWA team also works to instill other best practices for successful energy treasure hunts. Examples include sharing realistic dollar figures for energy savings with decision-makers, rather than overpromising; taking a few minutes or more to discuss energy-savings opportunities during already-scheduled team meetings, such as safety or Kaizen meetings; sharing data in relatable terms, such as saving enough water to fill an Olympic-sized pool; and thinking twice about purchasing equipment based on the lowest price without factoring in its energy efficiency rating.

Another proven technique is to embed the concept of energy treasure hunts in the company culture at every level to keep energy savings top-of mind and to ensure everyone at the plant takes ownership in it.  

“The plant manager might be able to make the program run really well,” Draves said. “But if that person leaves the position for any reason it might not have the legs to continue. That’s why having a good cross-section of people on the team is key. They’ll keep it going as long as they’re getting results.”


Controlling Energy Costs: A Change for Good

Draves and Hess said they are seeing more manufacturers becoming aware of the need to adopt initiatives aimed at saving energy and natural resources. A priority for the IUE-CWA energy treasure hunt team is to spread the word about the value of sustainability best practices.

“For a long time, many American manufacturers have looked at energy as a given and a cost of doing business. They just pay the utility bill,” Draves said. “Yet these same manufacturers have always focused on controlling the cost of materials, controlling the costs of shipping and controlling the costs of labor. They somehow forgot to control energy costs. We’re hoping to affect change and help them do that.”

Recycled Aluminum Manufacturer’s Energy Treasure Hunt Yields \$147,000 in Savings

IUE-CWA partners with as many as 10 manufacturers each year to help launch EPA ENERGY STAR® Energy Treasure Hunts. Many have gone on to achieve tremendous success, such as a manufacturer of recycled aluminum cans and bottles on the East Coast. The company’s commitment to sustainability, combined with IUE-CWA energy treasure hunt initiative, led to \$147,000 in savings in energy, water and natural gas consumption.

Since aluminum is renewable material, the manufacturer has always made sustainability a priority. Yet its sustainability efforts reached new heights when it worked with IUE-CWA to implement focused energy treasure hunts.

The combined IUE-CWA and manufacturer energy treasure hunt team immediately identified the potential for substantial energy savings associated with the plant’s compressed air system, which consists of six air compressors rated at 400 horsepower (hp) each.

One of the first opportunities for energy savings with the compressed air system was also an obvious one, said IUE-CWA Treasure Hunt Coordinator Bill Draves.

“The facility maintained its plant-wide system pressure at 105 psig, even though the plant only needed a maximum of 80 psig to power equipment,” Draves said. “As with all energy treasure hunts, we challenged the practice and asked the reason for the unnecessarily high pressure. And what we learned is because it was always done that way, which is not unusual for us to hear. It’s also something that can often be easily addressed.”

In addition to maintaining high pressure to meet artificial demand, the team identified numerous compressed air leaks in the plant. It also learned it didn’t need to use compressed air to activate numerous devices used to channel materials in various directions as it traveled along conveyors. The team also noticed a number of air-powered tools without proper regulators. 

To address the issues, the plant reduced system air pressure to 92 psig incrementally and did so without interrupting production. It also fixed many of its compressed air leaks and used mechanical methods instead of compressed air to activate devices on some of its conveyors. Additionally, it installed fixed-pressure regulators on various production tools. The effort netted \$69,000 in energy savings. The plant was also able to take two air compressors offline and place them in reserve versus running them regularly.

The energy treasure hunt team didn’t leave off at compressed air energy savings. It also assessed the plant’s water use and found it could save millions of gallons of water by reducing water used for cleaning sludge pits rather than flushing it down the drain. The water initiative shaves \$22,000 off the plant’s water bill each year.

The same energy treasure hunt revealed how the plant could lower the setpoint for natural-gas ovens used for curing paint and save \$51,000 in energy costs. Like many, the facility also installed energy-efficient lighting to save \$5,000 per year in energy.

“This plant is just one example of how it’s getting easier for the IUE-CWA energy treasure hunt team to show what we can do for plants that employ our members,” Draves said. “When we share successful stories like this it doesn’t take long before they see this is a really good program.” 


For more information about IUE-CWA-led energy treasure hunts, visit

All photos courtesy of IUE-CWA.

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