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Achieving sustainability goals: Think beyond everyday energy management

March 4, 2020
Peter Garforth says energy efficiency cannot live in a bubble.

Corporate energy strategies increasingly live in the context of contributing to overall greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. The recent announcements by United Airlines and BP to be carbon neutral by 2050 are typical examples.

About the Author: Peter Garforth

Corporate energy management still tends to be pretty narrowly focused on creating technical and procurement initiatives to reduce the medium- to long-term use or price of natural gas, electricity and other purchased fuels. However, while energy use is the largest contributor to global emissions, it is by no means the only one. At the other extreme, many companies are embracing a commitment to sustainability covering the social and environmental impacts of the company’s activities.

All too often “sustainability” is very broadly defined with a lack of clear goals and accountability. This typically resulted in visionary aspirations rather than a coherent approach with quantified targets. This can result in cynical interpretations of “green-washing,” with the risk that the company is seen as selling the message not the performance.

There is an interesting trend taking place, that addresses the challenge of being either too narrow or too broad. This trend builds on project design and other process expertise, along with the tools that good energy management teams have honed over many years. It also systematically leverages the cross-cutting links between energy and other aspects of sustainability.

Combining energy and water efficiency goals is usually one of the earlier steps. There are many energy and water linkages. Electricity is used to transport water both on- and off-site; cooling towers’ pumping energy is directly related to the heat being rejected, which in turn is directly related to upstream heat recovery; and reducing temperatures on steam and hydronic thermal distribution systems from end-use efficiency opens up heat-pumps and heat recovery as viable supply contributors.

Any end-use water efficiency measures will have a direct impact on the pumping and water heating energy needs. Also, water and wastewater are metered and priced utilities, like energy. Setting and achieving cost, use, and carbon targets will be a relatively straightforward expansion of the current scope of the energy programs.

Managing stormwater and rainwater has its own linkages to energy and carbon performance. The increasing focus on landscapes with zero water use, so called Xeriscaping, cuts both potable and wastewater use and costs, and reduces some collateral energy use. The use of bioswales to slow down and process the flow to sewers can also be a cost savings. These both make for more attractive bio-diverse areas and provide measurable amounts of carbon sequestration. These can also be initiatives where it is possible to engage the local community and possibly extend the landscaping and water management initiatives beyond the company’s site boundary. This not only meets social engagement goals; it also creates measurable carbon offsets.

Reducing solid waste to landfill also has many overlaps with energy. Reducing post-production waste can be directly tied to reducing production energy. It is also directly tied to reduced material supply transportation energy and emissions. The non-toxic waste that goes to the landfill will also be a long-term source of methane, a gas with high greenhouse effect potential. Working with the landfill to use this in place of natural gas also reduces the climate impact and may well be cost effective. Obviously, the less waste into landfill, the less the transport energy used, another measurable contribution.

These are a few examples of where the targeting and data-driven tools, skills, and practices of the professional energy team can be extended and applied to be an effective driver on wider sustainability initiatives. The combination of water, wastewater, waste-to-landfill, landscaping, and energy efficiency and supply is one that fits very comfortably into this extended thinking. It also brings a quantified discipline to initiatives that alone is a major factor of most sustainability visions. Obviously, the total potential economic, environmental and other benefits will be greater when combined, rather than as the sum of disparate initiatives.

Energy Expert

This article is part of our monthly Energy Expert column. Read more from Peter Garforth.

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