Sustainable Operations Are Efficient

Efficiency is fundamental to sustainability in industrial facilities. Doing more with less leverages resources, lightens environmental impacts and inevitably makes operations incrementally more sustainable. For most initiatives, it’s the major source of economic justification by return on investment (ROI) and offers the most accessible potential for converting sustainability from a cost to a profit center.

Until recent times, “efficiency” in industrial facilities usually referred to equipment and labor productivity: tons or units per man- or machine-hour. That definition still has value for improving sustainability, but nowadays when manufacturing people hear “efficiency,” their first thought is often about energy efficiency.

Among the major consumers of non-transportation energy (industrial, commercial and residential), industrial facilities have lead the way in energy efficiency improvements, but opportunities continue to abound not only in previously untouched areas, but because the efficiencies of available technologies continue to rise, and once-optimized areas tend to drift to lower efficiency due to deterioration, changes in requirements and misuse.

Serious sustainability managers will establish key performance indicators (KPIs) and benchmarks focused on energy productivity: energy consumption per unit of production. Meaningful measurements may require submetering of energy consumption by production area, with measurements integrated alongside production data in an enterprise requirements planning (ERP) or dashboard system. These may be benchmarked with sister facilities, through associations or government agency data, or with the assistance of engineering or consulting firms familiar with your industry.

 Along with conventional energy efficiency opportunities in areas like compressed air systems, cogeneration, boilers, steam systems, HVAC, lighting, pumps, blowers and motors, the most advanced sustainability efforts include outreach to communities for possibilities such as district energy projects and trash-to-energy plants.

Sustainability through efficiency also includes myriad non-energy considerations such as reducing work-in-progress (and facility square footage), cutting waste, making products more material-efficient (lighter), and using less of resources such as water.

Of course, the other side to “using less” is “doing more,” and efforts to improve efficiency will include raising productivity, improving quality, and increasing yields through conventional and novel approaches you’ll see by subscribing to Sustainable Plant.

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