Commercial, Energy Efficiency - August 21, 2023
Building Corporate Energy Awareness Through Mentorship
The following conversation is excerpted from an interview with Kulsoom Khan, Energy Efficiency Manager at Congebec, in Smart Energy Voices Episode 84. Khan won a 2023 WISE (Women in Smart Energy) Award for Mentorship.
What is your current role and scope of work?
Congebec is a logistics and supply chain company. We are the second largest in Canada. My role as energy efficiency manager includes anything related to energy efficiency with all of our facilities across the country, whether it’s energy projects, energy-saving initiatives, working with government agencies or contractors regarding energy funding or grants, or energy procurement. I also oversee energy efficiency training and education for employees. It's challenging, but also fun at the same time.
What has your career path looked like leading to this moment?
After I graduated from university with a degree in chemical engineering, I actually took on a role in construction and engineering. I was on a very different path at the beginning of my career. From there I switched to facilities maintenance, and that’s where my story started with energy management. At the company I worked for before Congebec, they were discontinuing the energy manager role, so I took on that role plus my original maintenance job. After I did that for a few months, management decided to permanently transition me into the energy manager role. I then went on to pursue certifications, training, and other education, and then when I switched to Congebec, I brought all that experience with me. It wasn't an easy path. I had to build this for myself and push myself into this role.
What inspired you to create the Energy Ambassador program?
At Congebec we are part of the GCCA, the Global Cold Chain Alliance. The GCCA has a program of its own called the Energy Excellence Recognition Program. When I joined the company, the CEO’s first mandate for me was to get all of Congebec’s sites enrolled into that program, and the program is pretty extensive. You have to do a lot of data collection and a lot of trend analysis to prove yourself as being energy efficient. That's where the idea of the Energy Ambassador came to life. Once I had an Energy Ambassador assigned to each site, that representative could help me get all the information I needed and get us going for the program.
Once we had our Energy Ambassador program set up, we decided to grow it and use it in our favor to do more with regard to spreading our energy culture and educating our employees about energy efficiency.
How did you get support for this program?
A lot of people were hesitant at first, thinking they were not able to commit the hours. I worked with supervisors and managers to figure out a way for ambassadors to work with me directly. It's been about two years since the program started, and now it's come to a point where we're actually recruiting more ambassadors and growing the program, and it's becoming really, really popular.
I think the energy excellence program that we enrolled in was a big selling point because the managers were 100% in line with our CEO’s mandate to get enrolled. That was one step. The second was answering the big question everybody was asking – how to achieve real energy efficiency at Congebec. My answer to that was, “Our people.” They're the ones who are going to help us get there. They're the ones who are going to help us save the actual energy, save the actual dollars. There is no real magic to it — it’s about getting your people onboard and getting them involved in the energy culture. After I had a few discussions and presentations and went through the business case process with senior management, they came on board, and now I think they understand the importance of this program as part of our company's energy culture.
How do you communicate with the Ambassadors across the company?
What we do right now is a monthly checkpoint. For one hour each month, we sit together and deep dive into status updates, upcoming initiatives, and program updates. On an ongoing basis, I have an open line of communication with my ambassadors by email and phone. We also have a Microsoft Teams group where ambassadors can post updates.
What types of professional experience and roles are represented among the Energy Ambassadors?
When we started the program, we made it a point to recruit people outside of leadership – forklift operators, operation supervisors, health and safety, and people with less technical backgrounds. This way, they get hands-on experience with the technical side of things when it comes to energy management at Congebec. For people who don't have that experience, it's a good learning opportunity and an opportunity for them to shine.
Tell me about some of the accomplishments and results of this program.
We’re tracking a KPI of kilowatt-hour per cubic foot, which basically tells you how much energy your site is using per square footage of your facility. This KPI is actually an industry standard that's being tracked by the GCCA. If you’re at or under that average, that means you're doing great. So the average right now is 1.12, but all of my sites are under one.
We also look at year-over-year energy savings, but those savings could come from many different factors. A more accurate representation of our energy savings is kilowatt-hour per cubic foot because that tells us how we're performing with volume usage at our facilities.
What are the next steps for the Energy Ambassador program?
We're thinking of launching some internal employee campaigns, which is really exciting. So far, we have been focusing on numbers and doing a lot of energy-saving initiatives, but the employee campaigns are broadly part of the culture.
A big area where we have discovered energy waste is when employees leave doors open between two different temperature spaces. So we're thinking about putting up posters that tell employees, “If you leave this door open for five minutes, this is how much energy you're wasting, and this is how much it's costing the company.”
Employee initiatives are also about working across the company to identify energy gaps. For example, we’re planning an energy hunt, where I will give employees or ambassadors a list of things to look for that are wasting energy at each site. It's a fun way to get everybody involved, and I know we will find areas where we could save energy.
Listen to our full interview with Kulsoom Khan and enjoy other in-depth conversations with industry experts and leaders of the energy transition in the Smart Energy Voices podcast series. Learn and find inspiration in their stories, insights, and visions for the future by listening and subscribing to the podcast here.
Kulsoom Khan graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in Chemical Engineering in 2017. Since then, she has worked mainly in construction and the food industry. She started her career in energy management at Maple Leaf Foods and joined Congebec in 2020 as Energy Efficiency Manager. Her role is to make sure all warehouses are as energy efficient as possible with their operations, manage energy-efficiency projects, and secure government funding for energy-saving initiatives. On a personal note, Kulsoom is passionate about saving energy in her daily life at home and is always giving energy-saving tips and tricks to her family and friends.