Sustainability Mythbusters Part V: Impacts of Sustainability Are Limited
Welcome to the Sustainability Mythbusters series presented by Schneider Electric. In this six-part series, Schneider Electric’s Global Sustainability Services team explores common misconceptions related to the topic of sustainability and presents a business case to “bust” each myth.
Of all the ideas out in the world concerning sustainability, none may be more patently false than the myth that the impacts of sustainability are limited; that somehow, sustainability initiatives will have only short-term, small-scale benefits for the organizations that implement them.
Such a view is simply not looking at sustainability with a very clear view.
In reality, the impacts of sustainability are often much greater and much farther reaching than they’re originally expected to be. They range, too, from long-term cuts in energy usage and costs to reduced waste, increased efficiency and better utilization of resources. There are often unpredictable impacts, as well, such as cost avoidances, strengthened customer and community loyalty and even shifts toward sustainability in supply chains and competitors looking to benefit from similar impacts.
Take, for example, the idea of size and scale. Even the tiniest of changes, when scaled out over hundreds of facilities or thousands – or millions – of manufactured units can be massive. A savings of 5 percent on energy usage, achieved through a relatively simple and cost-effective tweak, may not seem huge at first. But if you’re spending $50 million a year on energy, those savings pile up quickly.
In one Environmental Protection Agency case study, simply by analyzing its production process and the layout of its production area, the New Mexico air cargo box manufacturer Advanced Composite Structures cut unnecessary materials and tooling to create a more streamlined process. The result? Costs cut by 65 percent, production of units more than doubled from 20 to 45 per shift and scrap slashed from 24 percent to under 2 percent.
And that’s just one company at one manufacturing site. Imagine the impacts of a similar effort at a business with scores of manufacturing facilities and hundreds of thousands of units produced each day. Those are the kinds of big-picture results that can drive transformational change throughout an entire organization or even help sway an entire sector.
Well-planned sustainability initiatives also have impacts that are long-lasting – not limited. You often hear about businesses that invest in energy-saving projects expecting to recoup their costs in a certain number of years. But once that initial payback has been achieved, the benefits don’t stop. The business continues to use less energy and the savings extend for many years.
Sometimes the extended benefits of sustainability come as an unexpected windfall farther out in a project. One of our clients, a metal manufacturing plant in the northeastern United States, installed an electrical power monitoring system that has helped them not only keep better track of their energy usage, but also avoid more than $100,000 a year in fees from their utility company for reactive energy supply. Later, when one of the plant’s aged substations began faltering, the original plan had been to replace it with a new one to the tune of $1 million. Thanks to the monitoring system, however, the company was able to redirect its power load more efficiently to handle all of the facility’s needs – and avoid the $1 million investment.
As the scope of sustainability has grown in recent years, so too have its impacts. Within more organizations, sustainability has spread across departments and has become a part of every employee’s job, much the way safety became more integrated decades ago. As such, it now courses through and impacts every aspect of an organization, whether its office workers recycling copy machine paper, factory technicians installing more efficient motors or the Chief Sustainability Officer discussing procurement strategies with other members of the executive team.
Similarly, the impacts of current sustainability efforts won’t be limited to this place in time. Much as we are living and doing business today as a result of sustainable breakthroughs from years past, so too will the generations of tomorrow be guided by the innovations of today. And not just isolated businesses or communities, but entire economies that are still developing will be guided in part by the sustainable measures and practices of our current times.
That’s an impact that doesn’t seem very limited at all.
Paul Stiller is Director of Energy Management (Americas) at Schneider Electric. He leads an engineering team that supports continual energy performance improvements internally for Schneider Electric and for external clients.
Walter Holvoet is a Manager, Resource Efficiency at Schneider Electric Europe. He leads a team for energy efficiency improvement in industrial processes and on site generation, combining energy technology, economics and environment.
Schneider Electric has a proven record of leading organizations to thriving sustainability programs across economic, environmental, and social dimensions. As a global leader in sustainability services, the company provides an unmatched end-to-end solution that encompasses every phase of the sustainability journey. Through our offering of strategy, technology, and implementation, Schneider Electric is able to drive successful sustainability programs that accelerate business performance. Learn more about Schneider Electric’s Sustainability Services at, https://vimeo.com/58187366, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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