March/April 2010

Sustainability challenge

By Bill Lydon, InTech, Chief Editor

Sustainability is a concept I suggest should be in our thinking.  In ecology, the word sustainability describes how biological systems remain diverse and productive over time.  For humans, it is the potential for long-term maintenance of wellbeing, which in turn depends on the wellbeing of the natural world and the responsible use of natural resources.  Some business people think of sustainability as a threat from "tree huggers" and government that will drive down profits and stifle growth.  A more reasoned and productive view is to embrace the concept of sustainability to improve operations, lower costs, and improve the environment.  Automation systems are an important part of achieving industrial production sustainability.

A great example of a company that embraces sustainability is PepsiCo with their "Performance with Purpose" focus.  Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Indra Nooyi is clear about the goals: "Together we are all building on the platform of human, environmental, and talent sustainability while continuing to deliver great results."  PepsiCo's sustainability vision is based on the high level goal, "Leave No Trace." The strategy is to conserve and preserve the earth's natural assets, particularly water, energy, and land use. PepsiCo has three strategic objectives:

  • Perpetually reduce consumption of non-renewable natural assets.
  • Step function change in consumer loyalty and customer intimacy.
  • Embed sustainability within the cultural DNA of the company.

I had the opportunity to see a presentation by David Haft, group vice president, Sustainability & Productivity for Frito-Lay, a PepsiCo company.  Haft is an engineer, and he addressed engineers at the Invensys OpsManage09 Conference describing real-world examples of how sustainability is in alignment with business results at Frito-Lay. The results are impressive: After setting goals in 1999, by 2009, they have reduced water consumption 43%, natural gas consumption 35%, and electricity 25%.  Commercially in 2009, these savings were $70 million dollars or about 2.5 margin points for Frito-Lay.  In addition, the company has gained recognition and awards that have marketing value.

Frito-Lay's Killingly, Conn., plant has run a combined heat and power system since 19 March 2009 to get off the power grid. Power is generated with a 6.4 megawatt gas powered turbine and the 1,000 degree Fahrenheit waste heat is used to make all the steam required for the plant.  The system automatically reduces greenhouse gases by 5% by saving transmission losses, and nitrogen oxide emissions have been reduced by 60%.  The system was funded in part with a more than $1 million grant from the state of Connecticut through the Energy Independence Act.

The big projects get the headline, but there are low cost projects that are low risk and have impact.  Haft described a project using infrared scanners to look for heat losses from valves, steam leaks, bad steam traps, missing/bad insulation, and other energy wasters.  Haft said this project was "relatively low tech but very high payback. Every point of efficiency at Frito-Lay is worth $1 million."

Success stories like this should be an inspiration and call to action for thinking creatively about what I can do to improve the sustainability of processes.  Automation can be a big part of achieving sustainability to increase efficiencies or implement new functions.  I suggest spending some time, may be once a week, thinking about how to improve sustainability and writing your ideas down so they can incubate and then form action plans.  Collaborating with others in your operation is also productive with some opportunities requiring the coordination of multiple disciplines.  It is important to clearly state the goal and potential savings to justify doing these projects.

Please share any thoughts and successes at