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Meeting UN Energy Efficiency SDGs Requires a New Playbook

The nature of Sustainable Development Goals brings together experts across all industries to share knowledge, strategies and best practices. To attain energy objectives, manufacturers should bring their expertise to others in the industry and government bodies.

The manufacturing industry is making significant strides in the face of climate change to create solutions through cleaner energy sources and strategies that use energy more efficiently. However, to create the macro-level change needed to limit rising temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius, we need global strategies that unite energy efficiency efforts across industries and tie incremental advances to climate improvements at the international level.

This is exactly where the passage of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, marks a major milestone. These goals unite all 193 U.N. member countries under a framework to meet social, economic and environmental objectives, and are already changing the game plan for how we approach energy efficiency at an international level. Within manufacturing, the objective to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all should be at the forefront of conversations as the industrial sector uses more delivered energy than any other end-use sector, consuming about 54% of the world’s total delivered energy, according to the U.S. Energy Information Association.

The nature of SDGs brings together experts across all industries to share knowledge, strategies and best practices, as meeting such goals requires a collaborative effort. To attain energy objectives, such as SDG 7.3 (which aims to double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency by 2030), manufacturing leaders should step forward and bring their expertise to others in the industry and government bodies. The true leaders in increasing energy efficiency within manufacturing will be those who use a new energy playbook that includes a holistic mindset paired with integrated technologies, people and processes.

Updated Technologies Require a New Mindset

The nexus between improving energy efficiency and innovative technology requires a shift in mindset. Current methods of practice have us measuring and regulating energy, using the same methods used in the 1970s. These methods force us to view each component of a system separately. Technology, from smart devices to predictive analytics, holds the power to help us see the entire system working as one.

With these new technologies, it’s easier for manufacturers to take a holistic approach to energy efficiency and think proactively about how energy is used at a systems level. This change in mindset is similar to how you may view vehicle maintenance. You may be vigilant about ensuring your tires are properly inflated, but ignore the alignment. To achieve optimal efficiency from your car, both your tire pressure and alignment (among other components) should be in top working order. Your tire pressure and alignment are components of your car (the system) and both need adjustments throughout the life of your car to get the best efficiency. Years ago, you may have brought your car to the mechanic every 3,000 miles for maintenance. However, in the age of sensors and connected technologies, your dashboard provides real-time updates on the status of the air pressure in your tires or how long you have until an oil change is needed to facilitate proactive maintenance.

This is parallel to how energy is used at industrial facilities or in industrial processes, with connected technologies at the component level feeding data to offer a systems-level view. For example, if a piece of equipment in your manufacturing line is overheating, other components may be working harder to compensate for this rise in temperature, resulting in an unnecessary expenditure of energy. Sensors can catch these types of abnormalities early on and data-driven insights can help us proactively optimize at the system level to derive the best energy efficiency performance overall.

Employees Are the Real MVPs

With this holistic mindset in place, engaging employees in energy efficiency efforts is a critical part of a winning strategy. When people believe that their personal actions can make a difference, they are more apt to repeat these actions out of personal desire, not because of a business mandate. Empowering employees to believe their small steps make a difference is a key factor in reaching energy objectives because of the cumulative effect of all those small actions.

However, understanding the drive behind your employees’ passion isn’t an easy task – especially when working across different generations and cultures. Employees certainly understand more about energy efficiency and sustainability than they did years ago, but people like to be engaged differently. Businesses often default to mandatory trainings, which studies show are less effective than voluntary trainings. Yet, training sessions can be more impactful if businesses connect energy topics to their employees’ day-to-day lives and provide education that creates positive change in both their home and work environments. For example, training employees on best practices to maintain a steady indoor temperature or how to incorporate renewable energy sources into their work and home environments can lead to energy improvements across all settings.

When armed with the personal desire and knowledge to create change, employees are truly the energy MVPs. Ongoing measurement of employee action against business goals will help show value and progress, but employees must believe their actions are relevant in meeting the business’ energy commitments.

Tactics to Create a Winning Strategy

With SDGs as an international platform, businesses may question how they can move this effort forward at the local level. Organizations probably have some of these efforts already in place and can simply enhance them by using the SDG framework to develop industry partnerships and begin new dialogues. Examples of how a business can broaden its energy efficiency impact include:             

  • Create a disciplined, systems-level approach that views the technical solution as an investment designed to achieve organization goals. This requires departments to have a holistic mindset and look at the root of energy inefficiencies. It’s important to view all technologies and processes through the same energy efficiency lens, from manufacturing processes through delivery services, as each of these plays a role in a business’ carbon footprint.
  • Develop a utility optimization strategy that is universally supported and rigorously implemented and maintained. This is the common denominator in virtually all enterprise-wide energy efficiency initiatives. The plan should follow the same framework as any other investment opportunity under consideration; it should include a mission, vision, objectives and key performance indicators.
  • Consider stating public energy savings targets, and using energy disclosures and more transparent reporting to enable better awareness and analysis of energy use. These reports are starting to make an impact at the municipal level (in cities like New York and Los Angeles) and can help motivate behavior change in energy usage at work.

Scoring at All Levels

Thinking about energy efficiency holistically throughout manufacturing processes and operations will help meet SDGs and allow organizations to benefit from reduced costs, streamlined technology operations and less waste. As manufacturers, we need to provide reliable systems and services that can help our businesses and customers increase energy efficiency and also empower our employees to incorporate energy efficiency into their daily activities. With these changes, manufacturers can help lead a dramatic shift in energy consumption that meets, and potentially surpasses, the U.N.’s environmental objectives.

W. Scott Tew is the founder and leader of the Center for Energy Efficiency & Sustainability at Ingersoll Rand (CEES), which supports all of the company’s strategic brands – Club Car, Ingersoll Rand, Trane and Thermo King – and is responsible for forward-looking sustainability initiatives. Since the CEES was formed in 2010, Ingersoll Rand has successfully exceeded its long-term goals in energy use and waste reduction, while embedding sustainability in all parts of the product development process. Tew’s recent efforts have led to the development of world-class initiatives including the creation of a green product portfolio (EcoWise), personalized employee engagement programs, and unique research on unmet needs in the green space. He manages all sustainability-related public transparency, advocacy, reporting and goal setting initiatives for the company.

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