June 7, 2012
While many may view sustainability initiatives as a potential expense, the opposite can be true, as Bismarck, N.D.-based Knife River Corp. learned. During recent years, the company engaged in a multi-pronged approach to increase operational efficiencies while lowering energy costs.
The first effort began in 2005 when Knife River launched a program called Shut Down & Save. It focuses on eliminating unnecessary equipment idling and requires equipment operators — who can safely do so — to shut down their engines after five minutes of idling.
“One of the biggest ways to save fuel is to eliminate unnecessary engine idling,” says Ned Pettit, Knife River’s environmental manager. “There’s a very good business case for it because fuel costs are so substantial; they are really a major bottom-line item.”
The program started as a training topic as the company talked to employees about fuel usage associated with its rolling fleet. Through education and outreach, the program addresses specific opportunities employees have during their daily activities to affect fuel consumption.
“While our trucks are waiting to load one of our products, there may be two or three in line. Years ago, people would leave their engines running and maybe step out and inspect their equipment or check in on some of their phone calls. Then, they would pull under the plant when it was their turn,” Pettit says. “What we’re telling them is that kind of idling is wasteful and burns unnecessary quantities of fuel.”
Other benefits, such as reduced emissions, smaller carbon footprint, and lower exposure to fumes, are also highlighted. “I think that — because there is such a focus on sustainability throughout the country these days — people are interested in hearing about it,” he says. Once employees were trained, the program continued to evolve with the installation of automatic shut-off systems in some of the over-the-road fleet.
While economic and environmental benefits were quickly realized, a secondary benefit — in terms of reduced maintenance costs — also became apparent. “Typically, maintenance is driven by hours of operation on any and all vehicles,” Pettit says, “so fewer hours of operation result in less maintenance and create additional cost savings.”
Following the success of the Shut Down & Save policy, Knife River began to look at other opportunities to improve efficiencies and lower costs through its Cost Accountability Program (CAP). “Shut Down & Save was a good project to kick-start the process,” Pettit explains. “CAP really was something that grew out of its success story.”
In 2009, Knife River applied for and was accepted into the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program. Pettit says the company performed energy audits to identify areas of improvement. A year later, Knife River developed its initial targets for improving energy efficiency, including lighting, heating and cooling systems, and air compressors.
“It’s encouraging to me, as an environmental professional, to see the level of commitment that Knife River has made and the resources we’ve allocated to these types of improvements,” Pettit says. “We want to be a competitive business, obviously, but we also want to be a good steward. It’s one of those things that allows you to sit back and say, ‘There has been some progress, and that’s a good thing.’”