Opinion: Don't give up on sustainable operations
Operating challenges make sustainability a challenge, but it's still a worthy goal
Over the last several years, I've written a lot of stories about sustainability.
Whether it's been pursuing LEED certification, energy efficiency, saving water, or the role of equipment in meeting sustainability goals, each of those stories has had one thing in common: No matter what you do from a planning or an equipment standpoint, bad operations can undo everything.
This seems obvious, of course, but there's a reason it keeps coming up when I speak to experts in the field. It doesn't matter if it's facility managers, equipment operators or even back-office employees; there are regular occurrences of operations interfering with sustainability goals.
Sometimes, it's unavoidable, such as when you have to suddenly ramp up production due to a spike in demand or something like that. In that situation, your operators might be doing everything right, but your sustainability efforts still take a hit you can't dodge.
But that's a pretty rare scenario. Much more common is people being, well, people, and messing with things they shouldn't be or using shortcuts that seem good on the surface, but are actually wrecking your electric bill.
If there was an easy answer, then we wouldn't still be talking about it when we talk about sustainability. And if I knew the solution, I'd be charging you to implement it instead of letting you read this for free.
So if there isn't an easy answer and I don't even have the hard answers, why am I writing about this? Simple: To point out that although we've come a long way in sustainability over the last decade or two, we're still new at this. Because we're new at this, we're going to make mistakes along the way, and that goes for everyone involved in the process, not just operators.
That doesn't mean that we should just throw up our hands and say we can't meet our goals, because we can. We see it all the time when a new food plant comes along that pushes the limits of what we know how to do with sustainability, or when a new generation of equipment offers huge energy savings compared to its predecessors.
But we need to keep in mind that, as cliché as it is going to sound, sustainability is a journey, not a destination. We can always keep moving forward, and we can always learn new ways to improve planning, engineering, and especially operations.
We can offer better training, better evaluations and better oversight of what people are doing and how they're doing it. We can involve people earlier in the process to make sure they understand why we're asking them to do the things we ask them to do. We can change the thinking from "sustainability is something we do" to "sustainable is what we are."
It's not easy, and there will always be potholes lurking. But when it comes down to it, we don't have a choice but to pursue continuous improvement. People will always be people, but people can also do amazing things if we give them the tools and knowledge they need.