The illustration left, shows, from top to bottom, 7 resource efficiency methods with decreasing cost-effectiveness and increasing environmental impact. (Click on the thumbnail for a more detailed version of this image).
Clearly the most desirable and value-creating approach is to remove the need for a resource, or to reduce or minimise use as far as practicable. The next method, to “re-source“, meets the remaining need with a material with a lowest ecological impact. We then get into how we handle waste. Reuse in the same process is better than recycling or “down-cycling” into a different process. If neither can be achieved, it may be possible to recover some part of the waste – for example converting embedded energy into heat by burning waste. The least desirable option is to reject or dispose of the waste into the environment. (more…)
I have worked on a recent project where a maturity matrix has been the central tool to define the direction and priorities for site-level energy efficiency programs in a global business. This particular organisation faced a number of very common challenges in constructing a global energy efficiency programme: the operating units were very diverse and varied hugely in their approach to energy efficiency; the corporate team did not want to be seen as imposing an external view on the sites (which rarely works); and, as usual, there was often a perception at sites that energy efficiency was just about technology.
What emerged as a solution was an advanced form of maturity matrix, which could provide the basis for a full-day workshop that brought together a number of departmental heads and specialists to define a prioritised plan for their own site. The maturity matrix was a souped-up excel spreadsheet with six themes: “Leadership and Context”, “Measurement”, “Opportunity Assessment”, “Project Implementation”, “Continuous Improvement” and “KPI’s and Communication” on different tabs. (more…)
Back in 1992 a team from Boston Consulting Group set out to establish if they could determine what factors could be used to indicate the success or failure of change management programs in general[ sirkin2005hard ]. They concluded that four “hard factors” were highly effective at predicting the outcome of the program. These hard factors were: (more…)
Over many years I have observed hundreds of energy efficiency and waste minimisation audits conducted by external consultants on behalf of a wide range of industrial, commercial and public sector clients, but one thing puzzled me greatly and this had to do with the purpose of a resource efficiency audit.
It was clear to me that most clients saw the aim of an audit as the production of the audit report, detailing a range of recommendations along with a cost-benefit analysis. Everything about the assignment reinforced this viewpoint. The Consulting firms each had their own consistent reporting format, which they jealously protected, and their proposal documents all talked about the specific content and time-frames for delivery of the report. The idea of the report as the product was further reinforced by the payment schedule where the final fees typically become due once the draft report had been reviewed and approved. (more…)
A key concept in sustainability, widely applied to carbon markets, is “additionality”. It centres on whether a specific intervention that an organisation makes to improve sustainability delivers an improvement that would not otherwise have occurred. Understanding this concept is essential if one wants to set resource efficiency goals that are not open to criticism.
While it is clear that the measure of resource efficiency that has greatest environmental integrity is the measure of the absolute resource use in relation to the sustainable capacity of the planet, it does not necessarily follow that all improvements an organisation makes in absolute resource use can be recognized towards their own resource efficiency goal.
Ever wondered why there is such a high level resource waste in our organisations despite study after study showing a vast cash-positive potential across most sectors of our economy? Could this be a reflection of quality of resource efficiency proposals that are reaching senior executives? Are the engineers, consultants, environmental managers or operations staff who are developing these proposals simply not effective in communicating the benefits to decision-makers?
In defence of the proponents of resource efficiency the magnitude of the obstacles to the adoption of resource efficiency are only just now being appreciated. We shall see later in Part 3 “The Barriers to Resource Efficiency”, that the dice are well and truly loaded against resource efficiency right from the start. There are numerous psychological factors, organisational, financial and information issues, which conspire to make the case for resource efficiency much more challenging than it need be. (more…)
One of the most common errors that folks make in the delivery of energy and resource efficiency programs is to mistakenly set objectives to maximise the short term-returns from the program. The consequence of this approach can be disastrous for long-term value.
Some organisations take the view that the goal of the resource efficiency program is simply to optimise resource use in existing operations and managers will insist on a project-by-project justification with very rapid paybacks, leaving no room for the implementation of overarching continuous improvement systems. In other cases I have seen the program managers themselves get so carried away with the success and praise they receive that they become totally preoccupied with delivering the short-term savings as rapidly as possible and are reluctant to put in the effort to lay the foundations for longer-term success.
Over two decades and hundreds of projects I have been fortunate to encounter some of the best, and worst, examples of resource efficiency programs. My own observations are that around a third of projects have done very well, another third delivered some value but have not been sustained in the long-run, and the final third fell short of expectations from early on.
This success rate is typical of most change management or business process re-engineering projects[ bah2003bpr ], so we should not single out resource efficiency programs for especial criticism. If one reads what many organisations say publicly about their resource efficiency programs we can only find stories of success and the benefits to the organisation and their stakeholders of environmental thinking. No mention anywhere of challenges, disappointments, steps backwards. Consultants, like me, are also silent on the true level of success of resource efficiency programs because we are either bound by client confidentiality or we quite simply don’t want to advertise our involvement in failed projects – it is not good for business!. (more…)
The English language is rich with aphorisms that warn us to take care before we proceed: “look before you leap”, “better safe than sorry”, “first do no harm” and “prevention is better than cure”. This notion of caution, originating in the German concept of Vorsorgeprinzip, loosely “forecaring principle”, lies at the heart of the debate about roles and responsibilities for resource efficiency.
The precautionary principle states:
“When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically”.
The key here is whether there is an obligation to act in the absence of absolute scientific evidence pointing to possible harm. Clearly, if such an obligation exists, then organisations today that are contributing to climate change by, for example, emitting CO2 to the atmosphere or reducing forests, have an obligation to take measures to reduce the threat to the environment brought about by their actions. And the same principle applies to other forms of resource depletion, around water or biodiversity and so forth. (more…)
The economy which we operate today is largely based on a one-way journey of natural resources – from source to sink:
Figure 1: Our economy depends both on the availability of natural resources and on the ability of the environment to deal with the wastes that we produce.
However, oil, like other fossil fuels, is a non-renewable resource, in other words it is not replenished by nature – it can only be used once. The source of oil is finite. Furthermore the use of oil leads to emissions of CO2 whose natural sinks are already saturated. Given the importance of oil to the economy it is not surprising that there has been a lot of debate about whether the Source or the Sink would ever limit our use of this resource, and when those limits would arrive.Amongst all the resources that we use oil is particularly important. It has been the availability of huge quantities of very cheap oil that has powered the unprecedented economic growth of the last century, just as coal was the energy source that underpinned the Industrial Revolution in the years before. Oil has wondrously been described as “fossilised sunlight” because it is derived from the sun that fell on plants over thousands of years. Oil is an incredible material –it is very portable, its derivatives – gasoline/petrol, diesel etc. – are volatile and so can drive combustion engines and as chemical feedstock oil underpins a huge range of industries. Oil also has around one and half times the energy density of coal and over four times that of wood – one litre of gasoline/petrol contains 32 MJ or 8.5 kWh – which is equivalent to about 8.5 days of human labour! (more…)