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Five Ways to Optimize Sustainability across Global Facilities

Jan. 4, 2021
Consider the physical, regulatory and social conditions that might help justify or accelerate facility optimization investments.

From conducting onsite assessments of nearly 100 global facilities over the past few years and providing desktop and virtual technical advice to many more, we have learned a lot about how to effectively support clients with saving money and reducing their impacts on local communities and natural resources. It doesn’t matter what sector you are in because optimization opportunities are very similar across industries. Given the trends occurring toward needing to operate in a low carbon, limited resource and high stakeholder expectation’s world, now is the time to make sure your company’s “house is in order” and that your facilities have optimized their energy, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, water and wastewater.

Companies should approach optimization in a systematic way working inside-out. For instance, with energy and carbon, the following progression is recommended for a facility to pursue decarbonization:

  • Reduce your energy demand.
  • Evaluate lower carbon energy sourcing options both onsite and offsite, including available incentives.
  • Consider carbon capture and sequestration.
  • Pursue carbon offsets or credits.

To make sure your facility is optimized for water, it is best to consider a “4R” approach:

Reduce: Avoid using water where possible by rethinking your processes and/or modifying your products.

Reuse: Where is it possible to optimize every drop of water your facility touches through safely reusing water within processes?

Recycle: Where can water or wastewater be treated and directed to a beneficial use either on or offsite?

Return: To what extent can your facility return water to the local watershed where it was originally sourced from and reduce the overall demand of your operations?

After taking a look at your decarbonization and water optimization approaches, consider the following five practical insights for optimizing sustainability across your facilities.

1. Assessment Options

You may think that conducting a multiday onsite visit is the only option to complete energy, water and/or waste assessments at a facility. While such assessments are effective and may be warranted for the most critical facilities, they also can be disruptive to operations and a financial investment. There are various alternatives to consider, especially as the world navigates the pandemic.

For instance, an alternative is completing remote assessments by process over a period of time, thereby reducing the disruption. For example, coolers could be assessed month one, boilers the next, and month three could be an assessment of the facility’s compressed air. Assessments can leverage technology such as virtual reality glasses or helmets. You can also leverage a team of EHS&S consultants to be a technical help desk to brainstorm through opportunities and troubleshoot challenges. The best assessments engage a client’s local team and facility engineers to collaborate on opportunities and solutions that will work.

2. Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize

To make the biggest impact on the bottom line, efforts should be prioritized based on largest spend and largest savings potential. Start by understanding the size of the total utility spend for a given facility and how the spend is divided into specific categories—electric, fuel types, water, etc. Then you can begin prioritizing your efforts to make the largest impact.

Determine which category has the largest overall spend and warrants a deeper dive to understand cost drivers. For instance, during one client engagement, we discovered that fuel costs were only 2% of total utility spend whereas electricity was over 60%. Logically, initial efforts focused on managing electricity costs to achieve the greatest savings. Having selected this category, evaluate what variables or operational areas have the greatest impact on electricity use. Is it an increase in production? A heat wave? A change in a product line? Inefficiencies? Control points? Or other factors? If, say, electricity costs increase drastically with cooling degree days, then it would be advisable to investigate ideas around increasing HVAC efficiency and bolstering the building envelope.

3. Organizational and Cultural Considerations

Speaking of solutions that will work, one often underappreciated aspect to pursuing optimization opportunities is considering organizational and cultural elements. Regardless of the technical and financial feasibility, many opportunities must also consider what is pragmatic and sustainable for a given facility. What has worked and what hasn’t in the past, and why? What are the realities of implementation within the company and at the facility in terms of personnel capacity and capabilities, change management considerations, etc.?

4. Outside-of-the-Box Business Case

Using traditional business case methods doesn’t always do justification to what are really solid and worthwhile sustainability-related projects. While energy reduction is often easier to justify due to direct cost savings compared with water, it can still be a significant hurdle. Here are two techniques to consider when making your case:

Internal Price on Carbon: This refers to the practice of assigning a monetary value to GHG emissions within internal decision making. This practice is voluntary and utilized to internalize existing or scheduled carbon pricing mechanisms within relevant geographies and risk exposure to emissions regulations. Establishing an internal price on carbon is also used by companies to accelerate research and development and investments towards a low carbon economy future.

True Cost of Water: Many facilities are using a direct cost of water within their investment calculations. The reality is that there are additional embedded costs of water that can — and should — be considered such as chemicals and filters, costs to heat and cool water, motors required to pump water through the facility, wastewater treatment, and sewerage fees. By doing a true cost of water analysis, you may find that the actual cost of water is 3-4x what the facility perceives the cost to be. Such embedded costs can also be determined for specific processes to further drive reuse and recycling actions.

5. Look Outside of the Facility Walls

It is increasingly important to consider the “context” around your facility and the characteristics of the local community and natural environment—the physical, regulatory and social conditions that might help justify or accelerate facility optimization investments. For example, if you determine that the local watershed is stressed, would that help justify water use reductions and recycling of wastewater? Are water utilities considering water or wastewater rate changes in the coming years? Are there performance or incentive programs encouraging reductions in water and energy? Are regulators considering increased discharge requirements or mandates towards minimal or zero liquid discharge? Is water a frequent topic in media or local conversations? Having this type of insight will result in more informed decision-making with regards to facility optimization, production growth, and community and stakeholder engagement.

Based on these five insights for optimizing sustainability across your facilities, can you say that your “house is in order” or is there still work to be done? Now is the time to optimize your facility’s energy, GHG emissions, water and wastewater for a much more sustainable future. What are you waiting for?

Nick Martin is sustainability practice leader at Antea Group USA, an engineering and environmental consulting firm specializing in environment, health and safety, infrastructure, urban planning, and water. He also serves as executive director of the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER).

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