by Greg Lathan

Developing a comprehensive sustainability program from the “ground up” can be an overwhelming task, requiring long term planning and the establishment of major milestones. Why not begin with some obvious and easy wins, with an eye towards engaging employees? Some of the more complex aspects of a well-rounded sustainability program, such as sustainability in your product’s life cycle, design for remanufacturing, and impact on your local community, can wait until your program becomes established!

Identify initiatives that are attractive from both an economic (“sustainability pays”) and environmental perspective, which address two of the three pillars that support a successful sustainability program. These early successes will empower your workforce to become involved in the process and make certain the third pillar, employee participation, is firmly in place. Stakeholders are critical in developing a long term, sustainable culture at your facility.

Some easy initiatives could include the following:

1) Energy Conservation

Consider converting incandescent or fluorescent lighting to LEDs. From an energy consumption perspective, there is no “lower hanging fruit.” Conversion of lighting to LED is easy and yields a fairly rapid ROI. Installing occupancy sensors are a low cost means to reduce energy consumption.

Fleet Vehicles
Another easy win. If your company maintains a fleet of vehicles, begin an incremental conversion to hybrid or all electric. If you currently use propane or gasoline or diesel powered forklifts, consider the substitution of battery powered industrial vehicles as you replace your internal fleet. 

Manufacturing Processes
Replace single speed motors with variable speed drives to reduce energy consumption – the same is true of single speed hydraulic pumps. If your process includes machines that capture regenerative power, similar to metal presses during their deceleration phase, offset or skew those devices so that some cycle when in the regeneration power phase and when some are using power. Also, simply saving time yields an indirect energy savings. If a manufacturing process can run faster without using additional energy, it can be shut down earlier to save power overall. If your facility is involved in large scale high production, you can reduce the number of machines to manufacture the same quantity of materials!

Conversion to Hybrid Equipment
About half of the fuel consumed for energy in US industries can be electrified with available technology Shifting from fossil fuels to full electrification is a big and costly initial step for many manufacturers. For many, hybrid equipment is an easy compromise when replacing certain expired manufacturing equipment. Hybrid equipment allows for cost-effective energy choices, using electricity during periods when electricity are lower. An example includes planned boiler conversion from fossil fuels to electricity, achieving a dual set-up, with some boilers fired by fossil fuels and others by electricity (hybrid steam boilers are currently available for producing low-medium temperature heat). Incremental replacement of individual boiler units as they reach their life expectancy spreads-out capital expenditures over a longer period of time. 

In addition, hybrid equipment also provides the flexibility to eventually pull direct electricity from a nearby intermittent renewable-production site, such as a solar or wind farm. Such an off-grid setup could lower electricity costs for industrial companies significantly, as grid-connection costs, taxes, and other levies are mitigated or avoided. Industry could even be considered as a cheap battery, using electricity when available and switching back to fossil-fuel power when required, serving to help stabilize an entire grid.

2) Facility Recycle/Reuse 
Since most industrial facilities already have a process line recycling program in place, revisit it to determine if it can be made more effective. For example, many operations sell recycled materials from the manufacturing process to a third party. Consider eliminating these outside vendors and recycle waste generated from manufacturing processes “in house”, at the source of production. Label this initial move a part of your facility’s long term goal to develop a closed loop manufacturing system! Eventually roll your manufacturing recycling/reuse efforts associated with minimizing production waste into an overall recycling program for the entire facility.

3) Water Conservation
This area of sustainability may be the easiest, and frankly may be the effort most easily visible to your employees. Install automatic faucets and low flow fixtures in restrooms and break rooms. Use low-flow nozzles for washdowns or install a side-stream filtration unit to reuse water.   Early victories will spur employee involvement, seed creativity and “jump-start” your facility program by providing the needed traction necessary during the initial stages of sustainability program development. Be certain to “showcase these initiatives” via an internal media campaign. to empower employee participation at all levels-the KEY factor in “making your sustainability program sustainable.” 

Next: how some ideas on engaging participation from employees to build a long term sustainable culture at your facility.

How Can We Help?
The EI Group, Inc. (EI) provides a comprehensive array of services for the development and execution of sustainability initiatives relevant to your business. We actively seek ways to improve performance while supporting business goals. Contact us today at (800) 717-3472 or [email protected] to learn more!