Meadow Mushrooms know a thing or two about growing fungi. They also know how to bank $500,000 by saving energy.
The key, to twist an old saying about growing mushrooms, is to involve staff and feed them plenty of information.
The Christchurch company produces 200 tonnes of mushrooms a week, mainly for the New Zealand market, with each one incurring an energy cost.
Meadows have already banked savings of almost 4.8 GWh per year from its energy efficiency plan - worth almost $500,000. The company has saved about 20 per cent of its annual energy spend while increasing production.
They have done so after, in 2014, partnering with the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) and working with energy experts Enercon to identify energy consumption and savings opportunities.
John Barnes, Chief Executive at Meadows, says taking a company-wide focus to energy efficiency has paid off big time: "For a relatively small investment we are making big savings, having already paid back the original investment."
Wayne Collingwood, Meadows General Manager Operations, says the company knew savings were there to be made but also knew everyone needed to be involved, especially senior management.
One of Canterbury's largest employers, Meadows makes its own compost, grows the mushrooms, then sterilises the used compost so it can be recycled. Each process uses considerable energy.
The first step was establishing a dedicated energy management team that met monthly to assess energy bills and variables. Enercon was crucial, providing detailed audits to identify efficiencies at every stage of Meadows' processes.
Some staff were sceptical, but rapidly caught the energy savings bug, Collingwood says.
"It became like a treasure hunt to discover new avenues to pursue. It was vital everyone was involved. To maintain momentum, we kept communicating to all staff about the project and the positive benefits.
"Those close to it get a great sense of satisfaction. But you need to keep communicating and let staff know about the savings they have achieved."
The other key learning is that energy efficiency mustn't come at the expense of quality, he says. EECA's assurance on that score sealed the partnership.
Enercon's Sam Roose says an audit of all five Meadows sites between May and August 2014 found several processes used more heating or cooling than required for optimum mushroom growing - or they were losing heat to the atmosphere that could otherwise be used in mushroom growing.
Several systems were operating with settings increasing the time required for mushrooms to grow; several processes operated for longer or with more power than required for production demands.
There was also limited staff awareness of energy efficiency.
Audits and monitoring revealed the sterilisation process at Meadows' older tray farm operation was hugely inefficient compared to the newer shelf farm operation. The old building was leaking heat and wood compost trays were taking twice the energy to sterilise than at the newer site.
Another win was installing a larger, modern compressor - an investment with a brief pay-back time.
The road to more mushrooms for less money was not always smooth. One challenge was installing meters to measure where steam and heat was escaping. Installation had to wait; additional complexity in the maintenance process was uncovered and had to be managed.
Collingwood's advice - take those extra steps in advance. That meant getting the installer to evaluate and understand unique issues while the company had to assess how long the job would take and plan for all contingencies before scheduling the work.
Not every idea got off the ground. For instance, a plan to save on cooling by using fresh air didn't fly because of the need to control contaminants entering the room where mushrooms were growing.
Robust discussions were held but the innovation failed to meet the edict that quality must not be compromised.
What they saved:
1.4.8 GWh per year
2.$475,000 a year
3.20 per cent energy
How they did it:
1.Partnered with EECA to talk about how to go about it
2.Brought in energy advisory company Enercon to measure energy consumption and identify opportunities to make their operation more energy efficient.
3.Set up a team, which met monthly, to target energy efficiency
4.Identified what needed to be done and did it
5.Banked the savings