From Transformers 3 to EDF Climate Corps: The Mack Trucks Plant has seen it all

By: Rohini Sankapal, 2011 EDF Climate Corps fellow at Mack Trucks (Volvo North American Trucks), MBA Candidate at University of San Diego

Behemoth shiny machines in various stages of assembly now cover the shop floor where the Megatron robot of Transformers 3 was once assembled.  It's the Macungie, PA plant of Mack Trucks, a subsidiary of Volvo North American Trucks. This is where I've spent my summer as an EDF Climate Corps fellow, strategizing a sustainable energy efficiency roadmap across the sprawling 850,000-square-foot facility. I'm also quantifying the financial and environmental impact of this energy efficiency roadmap and positioning investments for prioritization.

After conducting daily walk-throughs of the ISO 14001 certified facility, I've realized that the company has already achieved quite a bit in its efficiency efforts. The facility is in line with Volvo's commitment to move towards carbon neutrality. In fact, previous energy efficiency initiatives are spearheading up to 34% reduction in energy consumption here. Nonetheless, energy efficiency is all about continuous improvement. There is never a dearth of new opportunities waiting to be uncovered to optimize operational strategies and savings on operational expenses.

The hissing noises from compressor air leaks, low temperatures in office spaces, forklifts charging inefficiently, bathroom lights consistently left on, motors without speed drivers – these are indications of what we call "low hanging fruit." And "low hanging fruit" means opportunity for even more energy savings. This fruit might not be immediately visible from studying previous energy studies or reports. But by rolling up my sleeves and taking a hands-on approach, I've been able to sniff it out.

I've also found success in simply being an enthusiastic listener. Most of my interactions and information support have been with the visionary EHS Manager and the Plant Facilities Supervisor here. Through discussions with these folks, I've been able to quickly understand the organizational ethos, take projects forward by eliminating dead ends, and optimize my short 10-week period here. Plus, I've found some valuable nuggets of information from the many of the most unlikely places. A handy man talking about resetting thermostats, a janitor cleaning up office space, a vendor handling preventive maintenance, a DOE team chatting about past experiences have all offered bits of crucial information spread across a large spectrum – clues to those just-beneath-the-surface savings.

Lastly, through quantifying my observations and analyzing the feasibility of projects, I realized how big a role qualitative factors play in the actual implementation of such projects. The successful execution of my proposed roadmap will depend on how closely I collaborate between various stakeholders and work in tandem to cater to their requirements. Strategizing for individual silos will not work - it has to be holistic approach. It is vital for me to identify arenas where stake-holders can be catered to, in order to ensure higher project implementation. During the first few weeks of my fellowship, we applied for utility rebates for efficiency projects spread across past two years. This clearly indicates that the entire business ecosystem now works cohesively towards being energy efficient.

With a few more weeks of learning ahead of me, I am excited to see how my analysis shapes up along with a plethora of new experiences. Now, if only they'd let me drive that Megatron…

EDF Climate Corps matches trained students from leading business schools with companies to develop practical, actionable energy efficiency plans. Sign up to receive emails about EDF Climate Corps, including regular blog posts by our fellows. You can also visit our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter to get regular updates about this project.