ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.-Whether it's a big city skyscraper or a distribution center on your co-op's lines, there's no reason why a building has to be an energy hog.

The Department of Energy has innovative ideas to help cut back on energy use, and they shared some during Touchstone Energy® Cooperatives' recent NET 2018 conference.

DOE's Better Buildings Initiative has more than 900 partners. They represent 13 percent of the nation's commercial building space and 12 percent of the U.S. manufacturing energy footprint.

Distribution centers are huge and can be energy intensive. That's why Staples has an "energy SWAT team" that identifies energy efficiency projects that the company then funds, said Harry Bergmann, with DOE's Building Technologies Office. Once the money is committed, the team goes to the site and does a great deal of employee engagement, raising awareness on energy use.

Bob Valair, director of energy at Staples and one of several energy managers at NET 2018, said their distribution centers run round-the-clock almost every day of the year. He said staffers play a big role in identifying potential savings.

"We give them gift cards for the best energy idea," he said. Talk to folks on all three shifts and there are "amazing little nuggets that you'll find." Before you know it, Valair said, you can cut energy use by 3 percent.

Another success story is Sprint. The mobile phone firm installed some 2,000 remote thermostats.

"What that allowed them to do is-from a centralized location-monitor how much HVAC all of the smaller offices were using," said Bergmann. "After a couple of years they were able to find over a million hours of unnecessary HVAC use."

Finally, Bergmann urged energy managers to "take your finance team to lunch" as a way to get "a seat at the table with decision makers" to ensure the money is available to implement energy projects.

Bergmann cited department store chain Kohl's as a great example of "energy-finance collaboration."

"They actually brought someone from their finance department over to sit in the office with their sustainability team," said Bergmann. "It's easier for them to ask questions, talk about budget, and discuss these investment opportunities."