A small University of Missouri program is producing some large savings for Missouri businesses. In just four summers, the Pollution Prevention (P2) program and its interns have identified more than $1 million in energy and environmental savings. Most recommendations have a payback in less than three years.
The P2 intern program, a partnership between MU Extension's Small Business and Technology Development Centers and the MU College of Engineering, teaches students pollution prevention principals, practices and tools through an applied engineering course. The best students are matched with businesses and municipalities across the state for a summer job that identifies and measures environmental improvements and cost reductions. .
"Interns bring a new perspective to the company," says Marie Steinwachs, P2 program director. "Their job is to find problems, analyze and compare solutions, and calculate the return on investment."
Sometimes interns help companies obtain rebates or incentives to help offset the cost of improvements.
"The companies give engineering interns an opportunity to apply their engineering knowledge to solving real problems. (The interns) can't get this type of learning experience in a classroom or from a computer model," says Steinwachs.
Due to the P2 interns' high performance levels, some companies have gone on to hire them as full-time employees. Mike Dwyer, director of environmental health and safety for the Boeing Co. in St. Louis, hired a P2 intern Sean Crockett as a full-time employee after Crockett completed a summer project in 2008.
"Sean did a great job and all contact with the Environmental Assistance Center was very good," says Dwyer. "I was especially impressed with the interest shown by Marie and her team regarding the value provided by the center, student development, and any additional interest or service (that) could be supported."
Crockett, an MU chemical engineering graduate and an environmental engineer for Boeing, says: "The P2 internship helped me better understand that a big part of being an environmental steward is the commitment of continual improvement. Periodically reviewing and reassessing our processes and environment can lead to more easily implemented improvements…because available technology and expertise change with business culture over time."
Allyson Finch, a Missouri University of Science and Technology metallurgy graduate-whose intern application stated that her dream job would be improving energy and environmental efficiency in a process that involved "hot metal"-completed a P2 internship last summer at a Missouri galvanizing plant. Finch analyzed options and recommended replacing old, high-bay HID lighting with new plasma lights, and inefficient T-12 fluorescent lamps with high efficiency T-5 lamps. The conversions took plant employees only minutes per fixture.
With utility incentives and a state energy grant, the company's investment was just a third of the total project cost of $51,215. The new lighting should produce annual energy reductions of 148,839 kilowatt hours and a savings of $21,380. She found additional savings in the company's compressed air system, temperature controls and forklift usage.
Finch believes her intern experience helped her get her current dream job working for a mining plant in Alaska: "Working as a pollution prevention intern really put my problem-solving skills to the test. It was very cool to find new ways of doing things and help the company save money in the end."
A P2 internship can turn into a full-time career for the intern and lead to larger goals for the company. Ryan Cummings, a University of Missouri-Kansas City mechanical engineering graduate who worked as a P2 intern for St. Luke's Hospital in Kansas City last year, is now an energy engineer for the hospital's energy management firm, W.L. Cassell and Associates.
"I believe St. Luke's set a goal to reduce 10 percent of its carbon footprint in the next 10 years and 15 percent in the next 15 years. I think they are really going to make it happen, and I've helped them create a metric based on 15 percent per square foot, because they are always expanding," says Cummings.
During his internship with the health care provider, Cummings identified energy savings opportunities from installing more efficient lighting and ballasts, replacing all the old metal halide garage fixtures with QL induction light fixtures, and installing occupancy sensors throughout the facility. In all, the lighting project could realize an annual savings of $112,618. Since his internship, St. Luke's has implemented some of Ryan's recommendations and he has helped the hospital system obtain a $40,000 rebate from KCP&L.
Steinwachs says that it's hard to say what part of her P2 directorship is more satisfying: the savings she brings to businesses or the opportunities it offers to students.
"When I see someone like Ryan, who was working his way through college and who is now in a satisfying career in energy management, I feel really good," she says, "(Students) like Ryan come into my office and I can tell right away that they are smart and that they are going to do great things, but they first need the opportunity to apply all they are learning in school to a real business setting."
Steinwachs believes the internship develops skills that more and more companies are seeking.
"The P2 program really pushes interns to consider the engineering, the business bottom line, and the environmental impacts with each decision," she explains. "They have to back up recommendations with solid reasons and good data. As more companies seek ways to measure greenhouse gas reductions, the interns will bring this experience into their careers."
Steinwachs urges businesses to apply now if they are interested in hiring an intern for 2012.
"The business application process is very simple," she says. "We're already taking applications for next summer. The deadline is Feb. 29. Our program can help develop industry-specific solutions for your company that will result in real bottom-line savings."
For more information or a business application visit www.missouribusiness.net/eac/p2/internships_summer.asp, call Marie Steinwachs at 573-882-5011 or e-mail email@example.com.
This story was featured in the January 2012 newsletter
- Leah Christian, Missouri Environmental Assistance Center