Business Going Green, Aided by Summer Interns

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

The Columbia chapter of the Pollution Prevention (P2) program has found $1 million dollars in savings for businesses over the last five summers.

P2 is a nationwide organization that couples together a company and an intern for the summer. The intern examines ways to make systems more efficient and thus reduce costs. Previously, interns have looked at aspects like energy efficiency, waste reduction, water conservation and greenhouse emissions.

“We have never had a company who has identified less than $50,000 in savings,” said Leah Christian, communications director for the Missouri Environmental Assistance Center through the University of Missouri Extension.

The interns apply skills that they learned through an online applied engineering course from the University of Missouri’s College of Engineering in Columbia to find these savings. Companies apply to the Missouri Small Business and Technology Development Center to receive an intern over the summer, and if accepted pay the interns wages as they analyze different ways the company could save money.

The Missouri chapter interns have found savings that amount to :

  • 13,688,622 gallons of water
  • 5,431,797 kWh
  • 16,226 MMBTUs of natural gas
  • 3,830 metric tons of CO2e
  • 1,038,381 dollars
So far, 20 businesses have worked with 22 interns. Businesses have to apply and pay the interns about $6,000 for the two and half months of 40 hour work weeks. The intern dedicates their time to one company.

“All MU interns bring value to the company,” said director Marie Steinwachs. “The interns have already been screened and trained to find energy and enviornmental improvements. So they come in with a clear idea of what they need to do plus they have assistance of our center.”

After the application process, the director meets with the business to identify what the businesses want looked at, what they think could be improved and the director helps prioritize the project and see if the intern would be able to complete them in the timeframe. If the company doesn’t know what could be done, P2 representatives will do an onsite analysis and come up with some ideas. Any project that the intern works on for a company identifies energy saving measures.

“[Interns] come in with the idea of looking at a system, assumption something is going to be done,” Steinwachs said. However, that doesn’t mean the intern won’t find other things that could be improved upon.

“They are looking around and asking a questions and somfetimes they spot things that have problems for so long that they might have been overlooked,” Steinwachs said.

For instance, cities charge sewer based on water usage. However, they aren’t supposed to if the water is being diverted and evaporated. One intern realized that one water meter was being charged when it shouldn’t have been because the water was going to an evaporation unit.

“[Interns] are looking around and asking a questions and somfetimes they spot things that have problems for so long that they might have been overlooked,” Steinwachs said.

Because the intern noticed this, the company was able to have about $50,000 of annual savings.

This past summer, Koketso Makhafola, a chemical engineering major at Brown University, found  ways that Kraft Food, Inc. in Kirsville could save $100,000.

“There are hidden costs everywhere,”  Makhafola said in the MSBTDC October newsletter. “You have to look at every single thing in a system, how everything connects, the people involved and how they behave. It’s amazing how you can change one part of a system and reduce costs for the entire system.”

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