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Creating a sustainability culture in industrial plants

Most companies today look to contain cost and preserve cash says ARC Advisory Group’s Dick Hill (pictured here). At the same time, companies are being pressured to reduce energy usage and green house gas emissions (GHG). Most process manufacturers and other indus trial organisations that have been around for a long time have alreadydone the “big” things

They have taken action on most large, critical processes such as fired heaters, utility power boilers, or steam generation units. Most likely, they have added automatic damper controls and burner management technologies to their fired heaters, load shedding strate gies to their utility boilers, and imple mented steam and energy balance moni toring and reporting tools to keep a close eye on these items.

Many manufacturers have also installed variable frequency drives on selected pumps and motors to save elec tricity. The energy-saving benefits to be gained from approaches such as these are now well documented, and each, no doubt, started with an employee having a great idea.

By developing a “sustainability culture” in their plants and across their organisations, companies can create an atmosphere in which all employees are encouraged and motivated to contribute ideas — both big and small — that can help reduce the company’s energy consumption, and with it, its carbon footprint.

Recognising the importance of embedding safety into the minds of every employee, most of these same companies have had a strong safety culture in place for many years.

According to recent ARC research, most industry leaders have a safety culture that encourages new ideas to improve workplace safety. So why not extend this to sustainability and energy conservation?

The same kind of thinking used to create a safety culture can be applied to a culture that looks for opportunities to lower your company’s costs through energy conservation and related activi ties. For most companies, creating a safety culture has to be the number one objective. However, in today’s business climate, having an energy conservation culture could rank a close second.

The first step is to engage employees and make them aware of the impact they have on energy conservation. A successful program must first create continuing awareness among all employees of how their actions can impact the company’s ability to operate in a profitable, yet sustainable, manner. Just as well-placed, "safety first" signs can help remind employees that safety is everyone’s job, programs to promote universal energy conservation awareness could be started.

A successful program should also encourage employees to think creatively and contribute their ideas about meas ures that the company can take to further reduce energy consumption and/or emissions.

Chances are, you’ve already imple mented metrics, such as "energy consumed per unit of product made." But, do you measure it in real time and provide this information to the produc tion workers that can make a difference? Probably not. Chances are, this metric is buried somewhere within a monthly report for the plant manager. But, if you can measure energy consumption in real time, trend the information, and then display it right on the operators’ console, they can begin to get an idea of how their actions impact energy usage.

Better still, since most front line workers are probably not engineers, and thus do not generally relate to engi neering terms, put this in terms of dollars (or Euros, Yen) saved to get their attention.

Creating a healthy competition between shifts might provide some bene fits beyond the normal good work that your operations and maintenance staffs do. If you operate several facilities, why not report, on a regular basis, which facility has improved its energy footprint the most over the last month (and perhaps even provide a tangible incen tive?). Most, if not all process manufac turing is controlled by operators that use digital displays that tend to show infor mation in engineering terms. The modern idea is to present KPIs in a performance dashboard configuration. ARC has written extensively about Real- Time Performance Management strate gies, explaining that performance-related metrics don’t have to be on a separate device; they just need to provide a different way of looking at information.

In many industrial plants, many potential cost-saving opportunities related to power and energy consump tion are ignored simply because the people operating the plants don’t have the appropriate visibility or control.

As the saying goes, "employees are our most important asset." When it comes to improvements for sustain ability, this clearly holds true. Creating a culture of any kind is not easy. The process industries have worked very hard to create a culture for safety. Creating a sustainability culture is perhaps the next challenge.

[Dick Hill is Vice President, ARC Advisory Group (]

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