To promote its Better Buildings Challenge, the Department of Energy has turned to an Apprentice-like format with dueling teams and lots of let's-show-the-others-how-it's-done type banter. In truth, it's basically a bunch of earnest men poking around HVAC units and fridge-door seals.
It's doubtful if the world really needs another reality show. But when the cause is making the case for energy-efficient buildings, perhaps we can make an exception. Energy efficiency is a hard sell, so any effort, however cringe-inducing, ought to be beyond ridicule. Commercial and residential buildings consumed 41% of all U.S. energy in 2014.
The tension, such as it is, arises from a clash of business cultures. In one corner is the team from Hilton Worldwide dressed in classic black suits, all short hair and clean-shaven. In the other are the maverick operations guys from Whole Foods, all beardy and pony tails. It's a classic cage match, except it's really not. One team visits the other's building and tries to find fault. But mostly they end up being polite.
"These CFLs in the hallway here, there's got to be thousands of them," says Aaron Daly, Whole Foods' global energy co-ordinator, discussing an old lightbulb type. "They should definitely see those changed out for LEDs."
At Whole Foods, the Hilton guys pass judgement about a low-hanging kitchen door. "The local utility actually offers rebates for seals on the gaskets for walk-ins like this," says Brian Mork, director of property operations at Hilton San Francisco Union Square. "Basically you can get them changed free of charge."
The DOE hopes companies can learn from each other and it seems like both teams got something out of the SWAP format. At one stage, the Hilton team admires Whole Foods' use of knee-height kitchen faucets. "That's great, we've got to take that back," Mork says.