It's no secret manufacturing facilities use a lot of energy to make the cars, phones or, in Georgia-Pacific's case, paper towels that we use every day. But what if there was a way to encourage these facilities to reduce their energy consumption? It's a question Betsy Dutrow, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's ENERGY STAR® industrial team leader, and her team asked. Their answer? The ENERGY STAR Challenge for Industry.
The ENERGY STAR Challenge for Industry is a voluntary pledge manufacturing facilities make to reduce energy consumption by 10 percent in five years or less. It's open to manufacturing facilities across the world, and there are no penalties for mills that don't reach that number. Dutrow says, "It's an aspirational goal that, while it may sound difficult, is one we believe most facilities who take the challenge will end up achieving. We have seen energy intensive sites achieve a 10 percent reduction when they initially thought they would not. Additionally, we have seen plants in other industries reduce their energy consumption by as much as 30 and 40 percent."
According to Dutrow, the challenge was created to engage industrial manufacturers like Georgia-Pacific. "We want to encourage healthy competition when it comes to energy consumption," she says. "Doing so is good for business, good for the industry and good for the planet."
Georgia-Pacific currently has six consumer products mills (Camas, Washington; Green Bay Broadway, Wisconsin; Muskogee, Oklahoma; Crossett, Arkansas; Palatka, Florida, and Plattsburg, New York) and one containerboard mill (Toledo, Oregon) participating in the challenge. All joined the challenge in the last two years and expect to meet the goal. The paths they'll take to get there, however, differ widely.
Some, like the Palatka, Florida, facility are taking on major capital upgrades. Palatka recently added a set of state-of-the-art evaporators that reduce water usage by approximately 5 million gallons per day. That's 5 million fewer gallons that aren't pumped in and out of the facility, and much of that water was formally heated, an energy-intensive process. In fact, the new evaporator set played a large role in helping the facility achieve its lowest energy intensity* month on record in December 2016.
Other mills, such as GP's Muskogee, Oklahoma, facility, are doing a lot of smaller projects, such as using more energy efficient lighting, quickly repairing steam-related leaks and tightening and aligning belts to reduce the load on motors. But little things add up, and the cumulative effect of these changes will be every bit as impactful as those at mills receiving new or upgraded equipment.
"The situation at each mill is different, so the avenues each facility is taking to reduce consumption are not all the same," Mike Younis, GP's director of energy optimization for the Consumer Products business. "At some mills, equipment upgrades and process changes are the best way to achieve these goals and create the most long-term value. At others, smaller tweaks are the way to go. It just depends on the situation at each mill."
Once a facility's energy usage has been reduced by 10 percent, the team receives an award from the EPA. But that doesn't mean the effort ends there. "Once we reach a goal, we're not going to stop working to improve our sustainability and reduce our environmental footprint," Younis says. "Sure, an award is nice, lowering our energy usage and costs is terrific. But we can always do better and ask ourselves, 'If this is 'good,' what does 'great' look like, and how do we get there?'"
* Energy intensity is directly tied to responsible energy usage. For a manufacturing facility, energy intensity is it's comparable to an automobile's fuel economy. Think lower energy intensity = higher miles per gallon. So, the lower the energy intensity, the more a facility is able to do with the energy it consumes.
Did You Know?
GP's parent company, Koch Industries, has earned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's ENERGY STAR® Partner of the Year Award for 2017. The award is the highest honor bestowed by EPA and recognizes organizations that have made outstanding contributions to protecting the environment through energy efficiency.
Koch has been an ENERGY STAR Partner since January 2015, and received the distinction for advancing energy management in multiple energy-intensive industries, actively participating in ENERGY STAR's industrial network and by building a vast energy network within its own operations.
In 2016, Koch companies maintained a high level of performance, improving energy efficiency in its chemicals and paper businesses by as much as two percent. Energy improvements at GP's facilities contributed to Koch's overall efforts.