What is sustainability?

Sustainability is about more than merely protecting the environment and being more energy efficient.

09/01/2009


What are the differences among energy efficiency, going green, and sustainability? If this sounds like a trick question, you're not alone. Due to the buzz surrounding environmentalism and global warming, the lines among these topics have blurred, and often they are thought of as synonymous elements.

Sustainability, however, is about more than merely protecting the environment and being more energy efficient. The principles of sustainability integrate three closely interlinked elements—the environment, the economy, and the social system—into a system that can be maintained in a healthy state indefinitely. In parallel, running a successful and sustainable plant operation includes factors in three categories: energy and environmental stewardship, corporate stewardship and human resources, and achieving operational and financial goals.

Energy and environmental factors are most often considered first when plants decide to implement sustainable operations. Plant managers examine potential solutions, such as renewable energy sources, recycling and monitoring/reducing emissions, raw and hazardous material usage, and the overall carbon footprint. Emission monitoring, advanced process control and field measurement technology tools all are used to help a plant become more energy efficient and environmental.

Corporate stewardship and human resources are significant elements in the sustainability mix. Workplace safety and security, public perception of the company, personnel retention, and employee satisfaction are all factors that will contribute to plant sustainability. Process control technology can affect this element through fire and gas detection systems, personnel and asset tracking, change management, and safety control systems.

Geismar security : Honeywell Specialty Materials has implemented an unprecedented security system with a holistic approach to the needs of security and process operations. By integrating process control, automation, and security systems at the Geismar facility, it boasts one of the most advanced integrated systems, reducing risk and increasing safety preparedness—keeping people, industrial facilities, and the environment safe.

Achieving operational and financial goals make up the last category of sustainability. Operational efficiency, yield maximization, and investment in energy efficiency technologies and products are elements necessary to sustainable plant operations. Asset management, early event detection, wireless solutions, and multivariable control and optimization applications create positive impact on the environment and a plant's bottom line.

The importance of sustainable manufacturing is two-fold. First, a sustainable facility typically has lower carbon emissions and a decreased impact on the environment. Sustainable facilities typically attract and keep high-caliber talent, have a better corporate image, and can survive and thrive.

Sustainability and increased business performance can be synergistic goals. Manufacturers must manage sustainability to ensure business success and balance sustainability efforts with growth and profitability. That means having the ability to measure, report, manage, and control various sustainability indicators. Many techniques (such as dashboards, score cards, etc.) can measure sustainability performance. The system should:

  • Include tools like remote sensors and measurement transmitters to accurately measure performance and incorporate measurements of the sustainability key performance indicators (such as emissions and energy usage as obvious examples) into the plant management systems;

  • Contain hierarchical displays that convey a clear line of sight from the top-level goals to the individual departments and quickly identify and communicate abnormal conditions such as equipment failure; and

  • Analyze historical performance management data for continuous improvement processes.

By measuring sustainability efforts, benefits are achieved because an organization can align employee actions with corporate objectives, provide consistent timely analysis of business performance, measure results, report consistently, and make decisions faster and more effectively.

When these elements converge, a plant can prove that it can be maintained in a healthy state indefinitely—a true example of sustainability.

 

ONLINE

For more on sustainability, subscribe to the Sustainable Engineering eNewsletter or scan the news channel at www.controleng.com


Author Information

Brendan Sheehan is senior marketing manager with Honeywell Process Solutions. www.honeywell.com/sites/acs




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