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 that the company’s facilities have optimized their energy, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, water and wastewater. Thanks to the work by Nick Martin and his team, they have provided a five step facilities optimization strategy guide.
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 the 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 the facility is optimized for water, the following is a recommended approach:
Reduce: Avoid using water where possible by rethinking processes and/or modifying the products.
Reuse: Where is it possible to optimize every drop of water the 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 the facility return water to the local watershed where it was originally sourced from and reduce the overall demand of operations?
After taking a look at the decarbonization and water optimization approaches, consider the following five practical insights for optimizing sustainability across the facilities.
1. Assessment Options
While multiday onsite 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.
An alternative is completing remote assessments by process step over a period of time, thereby reducing the facility disruption and any additional costs associated with being onsite. 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 prioritize the largest impact efforts.
Determine which category has the largest overall spend and warrants a deeper dive to understand cost drivers. 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?
3. Organizational and Cultural Considerations
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 does not 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 the 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, there is a chance 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 the 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 it is determined 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.
 Martin, N. (2021, January 4). Five Ways to Optimize Sustainability across Global Facilities. EHSToday. https://www.ehstoday.com/environment/article/21151029/five-ways-to-optimize-sustainability-across-global-facilities
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