Organizations tap into retirees group’s skill to reduce waste

Vadim Lavrusik

Retired engineers who are part of a state-funded program are not on vacation, instead, they help organizations to save money and make environmentally friendly changes to their facilities.

The Office of Environmental Assistance founded the Minnesota Retired Engineers Technical Assistance Program in 2001 to help organizations reduce pollution, waste and energy use.

After having program consultants assess Beaver Lake Middle School and a district education center, Independent School District 622, which includes North St. Paul, Oakdale and Maplewood, saved $161,000 in energy costs compared with last year, said Laurie Hawkins, energy efficiency coordinator of District 622.

Hawkins said the consultants recommended that the school and center replace windows, improve weather stripping around the windows and turn off the lights at night, among many other things.

“We’re in the process of tackling 70 percent of their recommendations,” Hawkins said. “Schools don’t have a lot of money to work with ‘ we can’t just up and replace all the windows.”

The Retired Engineers Technical Assistance Program, which shares its offices with the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program at McNamara Alumni Center, consists of 15 retired and semiretired technical professionals, mostly engineers and scientists.

“The environment is hugely important to mankind,” said Mike Vennewitz, program coordinator. “RETAP helps (the environment) by reducing the waste and energy a business produces.”

The program gets most of its clients by word of mouth and any small-to-medium commercial and service organization is eligible for assessments, Vennewitz said.

Vennewitz, who has a degree in oceanography, said the program helps organizations save 10 percent to 30 percent on energy use.

The program provides free confidential assessments in which a team of two or three consultants review the organization’s energy and waste management costs. The team then conducts an on-site inspection of the facility, which can take between two and five hours.

The inspection process includes a checklist of looking at “simple things” that may help an organization save money, such as making sure the thermostats are set correctly and the airflows are accurate, and whether the facility uses fluorescent lighting, which is much more energy efficient, Vennewitz said.

The consultants then produce a report in which they reveal their recommendations to the organization. This information stays confidential, unless the organization agrees to share the information.

“We’re certainly not doing it for the money,” said Tom Segar, a retired chemical engineer who has been part of the program since its foundation. “We’re doing it to pay back the state and we get personal satisfaction for doing it.”

Segar, who graduated from the University in 1961, said he enjoys being a part of the program because he can help businesses and the environment without affecting his schedule.

“If I am busy, then they get someone else to do it,” Segar said.

The program receives funds to run its operations largely from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and a small grant from the Green Institute.

Most of the Retired Engineers Technical Assistance Program consultants at are not paid, unless they ask to be, Vennewitz said.

Consultant Dale Bowman said the program’s goal is to create an incentive to add to the organizations’ “bottom line profitability.”

“When we migrated into some school assessments, well, that’s our tax dollar at work,” he said.

Bowman, who specializes in heating, ventilating and air conditioning, said the program does not have any women in it, which they are looking to change.

“It’s a bunch of old geezers that are having a good time together and hopefully doing some good work,” Bowman said.