deplete the soil of essential nutrients resulting in less vitamin and mineral content in food crops; and
lastly, release the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide into the air.
What Are the Harmful Effects of Misapplying Fertilizer?
If you apply fertilizer
to compacted soil, the fertilizer will lay on top and run off with the next rainstorm; and
right before a rainstorm, the fertilizer will go with the water.
Either case results in nutrient surplus in the water. Those nutrients fuel algae growth, resulting in a Harmful Algal Bloom or HAB.
Harmful Algal Blooms
reduce oxygen in the water causing fish to die (known as a fish kill event);
can sicken people and their pets when contacting the water; and
lastly, stink and are unpleasant to look at.
Ways to Reduce the Harmful Effects of Fertilizer
Modern farming methods used to mitigate the impact of fertilizers on the environment include
designing custom applications based on the needs of that area of the field which assures
crops get just the right amount of fertilizer; and
in addition, that the farmer isn’t wasting money on excess fertilizer;
using buffer strips between fields and waterways to catch excess nutrients from fertilizer that might drain off the field.
Mindful Use of Fertilizer Begins in Your Backyard
In conclusion, take personal responsibility for using fertilizers. When fertilizing your backyard, consider how much you need to apply and when to apply it. If the fertilizer doesn’t stay where you applied it, you’re sending your money down the river and into the bay.
The Greening of Industrial Customer Specifications
Green Specifications have increasingly become a requirement along with traditional specifications like
maximum weight; and
Common Green Specifications include:
“percent reduction in carbon dioxide equivalent emissions and energy usage compared to previous models”; and
similarly, another version sets a cap on a product’s carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent emissions and energy usage.
Green considerations are more than CO2 and energy and include
percent recycled content; and
finally, the percentage of recyclable material.
While the above examples are quite common, there are many possible Green Specifications one might encounter.
Green Specifications and Life Cycle Thinking
Green Specifications include Cradle-to-Grave Life Cycle Thinking. Cradle-to-Grave Thinking requires suppliers to consider the CO2 and energy usage of their suppliers. Supplier considerations include going all the way back to raw materials coming from nature.
On the customer side of Cradle-to-Grave, a supplier must consider the use, maintenance, and end of life of their product. A supplier must think broadly, both upstream and downstream from their operation, to truly consider a life cycle perspective.
Many Industries and Companies of All Sizes Include Green Specifications
Green Specifications typically align with a company’s sustainability targets, as documented in
“The Order of the Engineer was initiated in the United States to foster a spirit of pride and responsibility in the engineering profession, to bridge the gap between training and experience, and to present to the public a visible symbol identifying the engineer.”
One of Lisa’s best qualifications to meet your needs is the unique combination of a top educational background, professional credentials, and practical experience in top management positions.
Does a kWh of electricity result in the same environmental impact regardless of where we generate it?
In a previous article, we explained how an inventory of all inputs and outputs is necessary to conduct a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). In addition, we explained that the benefit of an LCA is to understand environmental impact. We also demonstrated that for corporations with facilities throughout the world, it’s essential to specify the location. Similarly, when inputs or outputs have various processing options, it’s essential to use the appropriate process option in the LCA model to get a valid and accurate result. For example, electricity is a typical input to most facilities, while waste water is a typical output to most facilities. In this article, we’ll look at two examples using electricity production and waste water disposal.
Electricity Production Considerations
First, let’s look at an example that demonstrates why it’s crucial to consider where we produce a kWh of electricity. In this example, we’ll use two of the commonly known midpoint impact categories of
Global Warming (Climate Change); and
Particulate Matter (Human Health – Lung Function).
The scenario modeled below is a factory with 470K sq ft of manufacturing floor space and 150K sq ft of office space. We are assuming that the factory uses 100kWh/sq ft, and the office uses 20kWh/sq ft annually. Therefore, the total annual consumption of electricity is approximately 50 million kWh.
Environmental Impact from a Global Warming Perspective
The point of the chart below is not that this hypothetical factory is using 50 million kWh of electricity. Instead, the illustration shows the environmental impact differing significantly depending on the location of this facility.
The chart above shows the midpoint impact category of Global Warming Air in kg CO2 equivalent. In this example, we see that India’s electricity production releases more than twice the CO2 equivalent compared to the United States’ electricity production.
The chart below shows the kg of 2.5 micron-sized particulate matter released in the air as a result of this amount of electricity production.
China’s electricity production releases more than 25 times the amount of particulate matter air pollution compared to the United States’ production.
India’s electricity production releases nearly 40 times the air pollution than the United States’ production.
Waste Water Processing Considerations
Next, let’s look at an example that demonstrates why it’s crucial to consider process details of inputs and outputs. In this hypothetical example, the factory is located in the US and produces 10,000 gallons of wastewater per weekday. The critical consideration here is whether the sewage treatment plant that processes their wastewater sends their sludge output to be
applied for agricultural benefit;
lastly, incinerated for energy recovery.
In this example, we see in the chart above that from the perspective of the midpoint impact category of Global Warming
the best solution is incinerating sludge for energy recovery;
the second best solution is agricultural land application; and
lastly, the least favorable approach is placing sludge in a landfill.
In conclusion, these two examples of electricity production and wastewater disposal highlight the importance of specifying location and process details for accurately modeling midpoint impacts and performing Life Cycle Assessment modeling.
Distancing in manufacturing and retail operations is a requirement for any business ready to reopen. Therefore, as you start to open or as the number of on-site employees increases, it won’t be business as usual. Whether you are in an industrial or retail setting, day to day activities will likely require changes. Ergonomic solutions are necessary to allow for distancing and include
eliminating shared tools and common touchpoints;
enabling the operation of equipment by a single employee by designing and using fixtures and jigs, and
lastly, implementing a logical one-way flow of production through your facility.
Why We Are Well-Qualified to Help You With Distancing
We have experienced Lean Six Sigma experts. Furthermore, we have decades of experience in Manufacturing Optimization and Continuous Process Improvement. That’s crucial because distancing often presents opportunities to increase productivity. Therefore, Aftan Engineering is highly qualified to help your business implement the right approach tailored specifically for you. We will work directly with you to understand your challenges and provide solutions with the safety of your employees, customers, and clients in mind. However, there’s more.
You can get distancing implemented in your manufacturing operations faster by choosing us. Here’s why.
Other distancing consultants may make suggestions. However, now it’s up to you, or for you to find someone, to
create the design;
choose the materials;
manufacture the components; and
lastly, install the jig or fixture.
When you partner with Aftan, we can often take responsibility for every step of the project. You can count on us to quickly get the job done from concept to successful implementation because we have
Your Company’s Green Reputation Can Be Quickly and Unfairly Maligned
Your Green Reputation can be harmed when someone hears a tidbit or observes something negative about your company’s Sustainability Practices. Suddenly, it’s trending news.
Right or wrong, you’re now on the defensive. Your communications department must do damage control. Furthermore, it’s incredibly frustrating because you’ve made significant improvements in your organization.
You converted all your office lighting to low energy LEDs.
The manufacturing floor reduced potable water usage by 30%.
Manufacturing improved product yield by 20% and therefore reduced both scrap and raw material.
You’ve implemented on-line record-keeping and reduced paper usage by 5%.
Nevertheless, suddenly the news spotlights the plastic packaging you use claiming you’re not recycling it. All the good stuff you’ve accomplished doesn’t seem to matter. Furthermore, the news is wrong and you do recycle plastic packaging.
Your employees, customers, vendors, and neighbors can all be great ambassadors for sharing your concern and positive steps your company has taken to promote environmental stewardship. Don’t be shy about letting people know about all the steps you’ve taken and are currently implementing. Here’s how.
Ways to Control the Narrative Regarding Your Company’s Green Reputation
Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) Summaries
That’s because they want to determine if the company is operating in a way that aligns with their views on environmental and/or social stewardship. For example, an investor might look for investments in low carbon companies or in ones that are behaving in a “green” manner.
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)
Customers sometimes request this environmental and/or social impact information in the form of a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). For example, customers who purchase textiles or plastics, especially when the manufacturer uses recycled content in the product, want to document the product’s positive environmental and/or social impact. The customer then includes positive impacts on their ESG information and advertising.
Furthermore, the company that makes the product wants this information as well. That’s because they want to prove that their product is a technological advance toward using recycled material and even toward a Circular Economy.
ISO 14001 Certification
ISO 14001 is the international standard certification for environmental management. The latest standard now requires evidence of Life Cycle Thinking. If a company is ISO 14001 certified, you know that they demonstrated to their auditor that they have considered the Life Cycle of their products and their operation.
Take the Offensive in Communicating and Defending Your Company’s Green Reputation
In conclusion, for 2020, don’t let public hype or perception tell your story.
Share the great accomplishments you’ve made so your investors, your customers, your neighbors, and your employees know the news.
Tell the world all the great stuff that you’re doing.
Build credibility in your story by quantifying those improvements in terms of kWh energy saved, gallons of potable water use reduced, and Life Cycle Assessment results.
Did you ever throw away a favorite tool, an otherwise working appliance, or another unit simply because a piece of plastic broke or a piece of metal corroded, and you couldn’t get a replacement part? If you answered “Yes!”, this story might sound familiar.
One small but critical piece breaks. So, you contact or attempt to contact the company who made the tool, appliance, or unit. You find out that
you have an old model without replacement parts, or
the company is no longer in business.
You try tape, wire or other repairs, but it just doesn’t work correctly. Reluctantly, you then dispose of the entire item because this one small critical, irreplaceable piece is broken. However, before you throw the item away the next time this situation arises, let’s consider an exciting new technology to make the part.
3D Printing can extend the life of an item and even improve the part making it more efficient because 3D printing
is especially well-suited for making custom parts for repairs so it saves you money and extends the useful life of that item, and
amazingly, gives you the ability to make a modification to better suit how you use the item.
Rethinking Makes Repair, and Reuse a Reality
Whether in a home, office, or manufacturing setting, finding ways to reuse or repair an asset you already own is usually both cost-saving and environmentally-friendly.
However, without “Rethinking” (another key “R” Word in Sustainability), the item is likely to end up in the waste pile. Hopefully, the disposal process includes recycling. However, you might wind up placing the item in a landfill or incinerating it. “Rethinking” is crucial because it makes “Repair” and “Reuse” a reality.
In conclusion, the next time a broken piece on a favorite item has you thinking about disposing of the item, “Rethink” that decision. 3D Printing might cost-effectively allow you to repair and reuse that item.
Planet, Profit and People are the three interconnected pillars of Sustainability. In the last two blogs, we looked at Planet and Profit. Now let’s look at the third pillar, People and the health of our communities.
Sustainability focuses on meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Notice that the present and future needs of people are at the core of this statement.
Defining future needs is highly speculative because we don’t know
the developments and inventions of tomorrow that will change our needs; and
what the generations of tomorrow will need and value.
And even today, each person values items differently. Admittedly, for engineers, the social science side of this topic tends to be more difficult. The formulas and calculations that drive our assessments on the financial and physical science side of sustainability become “fuzzier” as we assess the social science side. So given the uncertainty, we need to proceed with mindfulness and open-mindedness.
Depletion of Natural Resources and the People Pillar of Sustainability
One way we impact the social pillar of sustainability is by depleting a non-renewable resource. Depleting non-renewable resources means that the resource won’t be there for future generations, whether they might need it or not.
Fossil fuels are examples of non-renewable resources. Historically, fossil fuels fueled much of the world’s electric power. Today, there is much research work that has happened and is continuing to happen around biofuels and renewable energy as alternatives to fossil fuels. On the electric grid in the US, we are building solar and wind to complement our traditional power plants. Some countries in Europe are ahead of the US in terms of green energy adoption. The cost of increasing installations of solar and wind power has been power grid instability (1).
These issues can impact the social pillar of sustainability because the health of the community is dependent on reliable power. Massive blackouts across large regions mean that businesses, as well as households, have no power. Power outages have a devastating impact on communities because
water doesn’t get pumped;
food doesn’t remain refrigerated or frozen; and
manufacturing facilities are down.
Solar and Wind
Solar and wind are excellent solutions if one focuses on lowering the carbon footprint. However, the engineering community still has work to do in terms of improving energy storage capability and capacity. Engineers must do a better job managing grid instability with significant wind and solar installations. These issues are very complex, and future research will solve them. However, until these issues are resolved, the Social Pillar of Sustainability is stressed.
Another way to look at this topic is through the lens of anthropogenic change. Human presence creates change. Being mindful of what changes we are making and how these changes cause ripple effects to other plants and animals can help minimize negative consequences.
An example of anthropogenic change is a large development project that creates a significant increase in impervious surface area. When a major storm strikes, water cannot infiltrate as well as it did before the development. Flooding of homes and businesses result.
For this reason, municipality and city leadership must review development projects. Appropriate stormwater management infrastructure must be installed to manage runoff to minimize and mitigate flood risk.
In these two previous examples, government regulation is playing a pivotal role in looking out for the well-being of society. In this way, citizens are involved passively, simply by their presence as consumers and actors in the system. However, citizens are not typically playing a lead role.
Citizens’ Collective Action
In some cases, citizens take collective action ensuring the health and maintenance of a resource and that we use it sustainably. The term ‘common pool resource’ means that many people share a resource temporally, spatially, or both. Furthermore, citizens can be involved proactively and intentionally when they form social groups for action on the topic of sustainability.
Two examples of citizen groups who have banded together to care for a resource, such as healthy waters, include Trout Unlimited and various community Watershed Alliances. In fact, there are numerous examples of citizen advocacy groups across all topics of sustainability, not just water.
Concluding Comments Regarding the People Pillar of Sustainability
In conclusion, sustainability can impact people and people can impact issues of sustainability. Sustainability, and specifically the People Pillar of Sustainability, indeed involves everyone independent of
any other criteria.
As humans on planet Earth, our mere presence results in change that can range from positive to negative. Furthermore, the change can impact us from today to future generations. Lastly, each of us is a stakeholder. We all play a crucial role and don’t ever underestimate the role that each of us plays.
(1) Shellenberger, Michael. “Renewables Threaten German Economy & Energy Supply, McKinsey Warns in New Report.” Forbes Sept 5, 2019.
The 3 Interconnected Pillars of Sustainability are;
In the last blog post, we looked at the Planet Pillar. Now let’s look at the Profit Pillar of Sustainability.
Profit Has Been Crucial Throughout History
Our companies and families all revolve around a healthy economy. Whether we conduct our trade in direct exchanges of goods and services, trading beads, IOU notes, or any of the world currencies, humans have engaged in the practice of commerce for at least as long as written history (including cave art) has existed. We buy the things we need, and we sell the items we have.
Adding environmental concerns has not removed the need for a business to be profitable. Therefore, profit remains an essential component of an analysis of sustainability. If a product we use requires a mineral or material that is scarce, the laws of supply and demand increase the price to buy it until it is no longer available and can’t be purchased at any cost.
Why Bankers and Investors Are So Concerned about Sustainability
Banks and investors care about risks in their portfolios of investments. They are looking at the complete
upstream supply chain for the product in which they are investing including complementary products that are used side-by-side with the product in question; and
downstream consumer chain including the complementary products that are used side-by-side.
The trend from years ago, where banks and investors were only looking at the direct supply chain and the direct consumer, are changing.
Crucial questions now include:
Are any raw materials from nature in short supply, meaning that the price for that raw material will rise sharply, affecting the price point for the product?
Are there pending regulations on water utilization or air emissions that will change the operational costs of the company?
Sustainability issues represent risks to investors. Therefore, more and more annual company reports are now reporting on sustainability.
In conclusion, the Profit Pillar of Sustainability considers the viability for
consumers to continue to purchase the product at a price they can afford; and
suppliers to continue to make the product at a cost that provides a healthy profit.
Sustainability has three interconnected pillars, namely
But what does this mean, and how does one measure or address each of these pillars? Let’s first look at the “Planet” pillar of sustainability. The other components will be addressed in upcoming blog posts.
A common way to classify the features of planet Earth is to include
Sustainability scientists use these same terms to measure the health of the Earth. Here are some measures we might consider for these terms.
terrestrial acidification; and
aquatic acidification; and
smog formation; or
What Is Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)?
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is one of the tools we use to estimate impacts on our planet or the environment. LCA considers the effects of a process or product from cradle to grave, meaning that we consider all stages of the product’s life from raw material extraction from the earth to disposal or recycling.
The LCA process is frequently used by designers to assess the potential impacts of their designs. You might have seen a company advertise that their new packaging material design saves x billion kg of carbon dioxide equivalent from entering the atmosphere. Or, perhaps a company will advertise that their new manufacturing process reduces sub 2.5-micron particulate matter by x tons per year. These are examples of statements companies make to communicate that they’re thinking about the Planet Pillar of Sustainability.
4 Critical Steps for Conducting an LCA Study
Step 1: Define the Goal and Scope of the Study
This step might sound simple and unimportant, but it is the foundation of the whole study. Ensuring that the study is well-defined allows us to draw comparisons between equivalent solutions.
Step 2: Prepare an Inventory
In the manufacturing world, we think of this as the Bill of Materials. But in addition to just the Bill of Materials to manufacture the product, we include all
Upstream Materials and Transportation for movement of the materials until we have the inventory in terms of raw materials from nature, and
Downstream Materials and Transportation
of the product to the customer;
materials required during use;
maintenance and repair; and
finally, disposal or recycling.
We again define this in terms of raw materials from nature.
Create an Inventory Flow Diagram to show flows from nature to nature, including
releases to land;
releases to air; and
lastly, releases to water.
The inventory and associated flow diagram for even a simple product can be quite complex.
Step 3: Perform an Impact Assessment
Each inventory item is associated with a potential environmental impact. Summing all the potential environmental impacts for each inventory item provide an estimated quantification of impact. Various software packages can assist with this assessment of impact.
Step 4: Interpreting Results
The final step involves interpretation of the results, performing sensitivity analysis on the data, and making recommendations.
So hopefully, the next time you see a company advertise that their redesigned product uses x million liters less water per year or their redesigned manufacturing process releases x million tons less particulate matter per year, you’ll have an idea about the analysis that they went through to define that estimate for impact on our planet.