Change a light bulb. Make a difference.
I recently sat down with Don Colvin, U.S. VP of facilities at FedEx Express, to hear what it takes to sustainably manage 52 million square feet of space.
Q. The Solar Energy Industries Association just announced their top 25 corporate solar users and FedEx is on the list again. Can you tell me how solar fits into your overall sustainability strategy?
A. The Oakland hub was the first FedEx solar property to come online back in 2005. Now we have nine across all of FedEx with a total capacity to power a small community for a year.
We’re proud of our impact but also realistic about growth. Without incentives, it takes about 10 years for us to see a return and solar installations still don’t generate 100% capacity. It’s a mixed bag. Until costs drop, we’ll continue to look for opportunities for build-out incentives like in New Jersey.
We’ll also supplement with a broader mix of energy efficient technology. One of our biggest successes is our lighting retrofits.
Q. What do you mean by lighting retrofits?
A. FedEx has generated 20 GWh of solar power since 2005. Our lighting retrofits, to put it all into context, have saved over 166 GWh since 2006. The ROI on retrofits is only about 1-2 years. We may not be able to install solar on all our buildings but we can act on a simple principle like changing a light bulb. New T-5 fluorescents and occupancy sensors save us a lot of electricity.
My prediction is that lighting will continue to be on the forefront of energy savings. LEDs have been around for a while but now they’re crossing into the mainstream with very dramatic results.
Q. Where do you see LEDs playing a role at FedEx?
A. Some claims state LEDs reduces consumption by 90%. Even 50% would be huge. We have lights in our aircraft gates that are 60 and 70 feet high. We change out those lamps every three years. It gets expensive and wasteful. If we can work with manufactures to develop LEDs for this type of situation, we’d look at replacements every 10 years. That would be a huge return and I even see that broader adoption of LEDs may help the U.S to recover some of the fragile grid system.
Q. I recently heard a hub manager talk about the benefits of sustainable design in one of our sorting facilities. He said his team seemed happier and productivity had increased. What other surprising results have you seen on the sustainability front?
A. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) as a design principle has helped my team design and build better buildings. We think about using as much natural light as possible, and like the sort facility you mentioned, we see our team members enjoy the space they work in more.
It also helps us think about the lifecycle of the materials we use. Five years ago most of the waste from the average construction site went to the landfill. Today 90% of waste materials are kept out of landfills. Of course, LEED provides guidelines for more sustainable materials, and as a total package, I’ve seen it convert those resistant of LEED into proponents.
Q. I’d like to ask you a few rapid fire questions as we round out our conversation. You game?
A. I’m ready!
Q. What sustainability program would you consider your unsung hero?
A. One of the best kept secrets is our recycling program at the Memphis hub. It’s been around since the early 90s and I’ve seen everything from a soda can to a broken forklift get recycled through there. Since 2008, we’ve kept about 43 million lbs. out of Memphis landfills.
Q. What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen members of your team do?
A. Some of the guys on the maintenance crew also double as sculptors. These guys can salvage anything and some of the materials have turned into some amazing pieces of art. I hope we can install their art someday at our facilities.
Q. Which property will be the next sustainability flagship for FedEx Express?
A. In a year from now, I want you to visit the new air operations training center. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.