Victoria's Agropur gets employees thinking about energy efficiency

Lee Griffiths and Brian Moore
Agropur process engineer/energy manager Lee Griffiths (left) poses with plant manager Brian Moore. An all-staff meeting that detailed how much electricity is costing the company has led to a surge of ideas from employees and several big energy efficiency upgrades.

Dairy producer called all-staff meeting to talk numbers with employees

When managers at Agropur Division Natrel sat down recently to do an energy management assessment, they got a surprise.

Based in Victoria, Agropur produces a wide range of dairy products under the familiar brand name Island Farms. Their energy assessment showed that they've done a reasonable job at improving efficiency over the past few years.

But despite having already established senior level buy-in for energy efficiency, the assessment pointed to an area where they were missing out: communication and engagement.

Agropur energy manager Lee Griffiths, an automation and controls specialist, says the news was a surprise.

"My passion was automating an organization; that was forefront in my mind and where I saw a lot of energy management opportunity," says Griffiths.  "And now that I've taken this role on and I've started to live it and read up on it, I realize a lot more effort has to be put on the communication and people side.

"As we get that engagement, then I can properly focus on the automation side, but until we get that, that's where we have to focus."

Showing them the money

Based on the findings, Griffiths focused his first efforts on a presentation to all of Agropur's 220 staff.

The presentation explained the company's new energy management program and reviewed the energy policy. Then, management shared historical data about how much it costs to run the plant in terms of electricity, gas, and water.

"We've never shared with employees those dollar amounts," says Brian Moore, Agropur's plant manager. "I think it was an eye opener for them when we showed what it's costing us in energy costs each year.

"It got the guys thinking, and they're coming up with ideas about how we can save money. Before, it was about how we could save energy – now it's about saving money. It's a little different because everyone can relate to the money part."

Three projects, 1 million kWh to be saved

Agropur is now upgrading the refrigeration controls in its milk plant, matching a previous upgrade in its ice cream plant. It's also assessing the savings a lighting retrofit might offer.

Across those three projects, Griffiths estimates the company will save nearly one million kWh of electricity each year.

The company also made use of BC Hydro expertise and funding to build their new depot in Delta, under the New Plant Design initiative.

Employees engage in savings

The company's new energy team includes six volunteers from across the plant, and ideas are welcome from everyone.

"During the presentation we got 30 or 40 suggestions for places to save energy," says Griffiths. "Some were already on our radar, but it was great to have them coming forward. As we carry out some of those improvements and they see them implemented, we hope we get a lot more as well."

"We brought the management team in, then supervisors, and now employees," says Moore. "It's really important to make sure we keep people involved right through all the employees on the floor because that's where the rubber hits the road.

"We realized that we can do projects, we can put in energy efficient motors and energy efficient machines, but if the buy-in isn't there to make sure we're running that equipment in an energy efficient manner, then we'll not achieve the energy savings we want.

"I knew going into this that we needed the employees to make this work, but going through the process, it's been reinforced 10-fold. Having that shift in culture is probably the most important part of getting to energy efficiency."