Tuesday, September 11, 2012


If businesses, state-owned enterprises and state institutions pursued sustainability vigorously in South Africa, there is little doubt in my mind that there would be a positive impact on our unemployment problem. Of course, fixing our problems requires an integrated, multi-stakeholder approach, good governance, exceptional discipline and a host of other ingredients, and I certainly don’t claim to have all of the answers here. However, in terms of the practical application of sustainability in industry, I do have some insights, and would like to illustrate the practical power of sustainability as a force for good and as a viable route to competitiveness for organisations.

Industrial sites represent endless opportunities for increased resource efficiency. The thing is, while the use of specialist measurement tools, software applications and technical knowledge can be used to identify opportunities, to most people these opportunities remain hidden. And so we have many industrial sites that continue to operate oblivious to the potential opportunities available through investment, optimisation and simple process changes, which could significantly reduce their costs and increase their competitiveness. I see this regularly, even with respect to very large, successful and profitable companies, but of course this is also prevalent at small companies, where technical resources are scarce.  This enormous-yet-hidden goldmine of productivity improvement opportunities represents a massive job creation opportunity for our country, which has been in the grips of a deep unemployment crisis for decades now.

Measurement tools used to assess
opportunities in steam systems
To illustrate the point, consider a typical manufacturing site. This site would use inputs such as raw materials, water and energy and, using specific transformation processes, would produce products, by-products and liquid, solid and gaseous waste streams. 

Now imagine if this site embarked on a structured process to identify, develop and implement a portfolio of resource efficiency projects, each of which was aimed at reducing waste and the consumption of resources, and preventing pollution at source. Some of these projects would require simple optimisation, such as changes to a process set point e.g. operating a high-temperature process at as low a temperature as possible reduces energy requirements. Some would require simple changes in operating procedures – for example, all employees to switch off their air conditioning units when they leave their offices at the end of the day. In these two cases, you could argue that there could be some job creation potential arising from the savings derived from these actions, but there are no guarantees that this is where the savings would be diverted. We cannot therefore rely on such actions to be the engines of job growth. 

There will however certainly be a sizable number of projects which would require changes in technology, modifications to plant and equipment, specialist services such as software changes for automated facilities and other types of interventions best carried out by an outside third party. This is where I believe the serious job creation potential lies, and importantly, since most of these projects tend to be too small to attract large engineering houses, many of these jobs would be created in small businesses, now widely regarded as the primary job creators in modern economies.

To give you a feel for the types of opportunities I am referring to, I have included some examples in the table below:

Steam system modifications
Insulation of steam lines and valves, routine assessment and repairs to steam traps, installation of an in-line oxygen analyser in the boiler flue to improve boiler efficiency management, modifications at point of use to enable better control and reduced steam usage
Compressed air system modifications
Refurbishment of air reticulation system, installation of oil traps, water traps and pressure regulators, installation of variable speed drives on compressor motors, leak detection and repair, changes to control algorithms to improve the management of multiple compressors, elimination of unnecessary usage
Fleet fuel efficiency
Training of drivers in eco-efficient driving techniques, installation of satellite vehicle monitoring systems, modifications to vehicle components to improve aerodynamics
Motor efficiency improvements
Motor power surveys, replacement of standard-efficiency motors with premium-efficiency motors, motor shaft alignment and belt drive tensioning services, gearbox and coupling modifications, improvement of motor loadings through motor swaps/replacements
Lighting improvements
Installation of new fittings and efficient lighting solutions, rearrangement of switching to permit more effective zoning, modifications to allow lower-wattage lamp usage in existing fittings
Material usage reductions
Condition monitoring and calibration checks for material-critical equipment e.g. flow meters/load cells used to measure material flows
Reduction in maximum demand
Installation of a power factor correction system, supply and installation of soft starters, supply, installation and programming of a load demand controller
Reduction in electrical heating requirements
Insulation of equipment, installation of a temperature probe with feedback control, tuning of control loops
Improved waste management 
Supply and commissioning of compactors to reduce haulage costs, outsourced waste management services, installation of recovery systems to allow reuse and/or to turn wastes into revenue streams
Reductions in cooling tower evaporation
Design and commissioning of integrated heat recovery systems to reduce heat rejection e.g. heat exchangers, piping, valves and control systems
Reductions in water usage
Supply and installation of low-flow shower heads, water filtration systems that allow increased reuse, treatment options etc.
Training and coaching of staff

In a growing economy, the industrial sector would typically invest in capital projects, and hence jobs would be created at companies providing the types of services indicated above. However, the current economic situation means that many of these types of suppliers are without work. The beauty of resource efficiency projects is that they are not wholly dependent on the economic climate to be viable (though it is true that increased demand generally makes resource efficiency projects more financially viable). Resource efficiency projects are about doing more with less, and it is precisely at times such as now that they are most needed. In addition, when there is an uptick in economic activity, resource-efficient operations stand to benefit most from the increases in margins that come with the reduced costs per unit of production delivered by resource efficiency in areas such as energy, water and materials. Resource efficiency has a multiplier effect on profits in boom times.

Essentially, what we are doing when we develop and implement resource efficiency projects is creating a pipeline of projects for small businesses (and some large businesses too). In essence, deployment of the correct expertise and the use of specialist measurements creates “something out of nothing” by identifying opportunities that were hitherto hidden and which, if not implemented, would not prevent industrial operations from functioning, but which once implemented have a material effect on productivity and environmental performance. Recent increases in energy, water and material costs make many of these projects viable in their own right, but the South African government has also, through the DTI, recently launched incentives which will make them even more attractive.

What types of jobs am I talking about then? Let’s consider the example of a power factor correction system (more a cost reduction opportunity than a sustainability issue, but useful for illustration). Firstly, site power consumption would have to be logged over a period of time to determine demand trends and the variables necessary to understand variations in the site’s power factor. Some other parameters may also be of interest, for example harmonic distortion and variations in supply voltage. Next the size of the economic opportunity would need to be investigated, which implies an examination of utility bills and the potential savings that could be achieved by improving the site’s power factor. These would then require comparison to the costs of installation and maintenance of a new system or an increase in the capacitance of an existing system, along with the costs of other associated equipment e.g. harmonic filters. It is generally a good idea to look at this in conjunction with any other potential initiatives that could impact on demand, e.g. load management, energy efficiency projects etc. If viable, a power factor correction system would need to be designed, installed and commissioned. Performance would then need to be tested to ensure that expected improvements are realised. The system would then need to be maintained over the course of its useful life, or until circumstances on the site changed such that the system was no longer required. 

If we examine the life cycle of this small, relatively simple project, the following job roles are identified:

Transformer logging
Logging equipment procurement (vendor)
Conducting of logging (technician)
Financial review
Analysis of financial feasibility (financial analyst )
Supply of PF correction system
PF correction system parts procurement/manufacture/assembly (vendor)
Installation of PF correction system
Site prep, tie-ins, siting (technician, electrician, engineer)
Commissioning of PF correction system
(engineer, technician)
Testing of PF Correction system and confirmation of results
Technical and financial analysis (technician and financial analyst)
Maintenance of PF correction system
Assessment, preventive maintenance tasks and routine repairs to PF correction system over 20 year lifespan (technician)

The actual number of jobs created depends on a number of factors, but for each individual element of the value chain, clearly the more individual projects carried out by industrial sites, the higher the probability of creating new jobs. Local manufacture of the logger, power factor correction equipment and replacement parts required for maintenance would also mean increased local job creation, some of which would be in lower-skilled categories.

I have tried to illustrate the variety inherent in these types of projects, to show that even when implemented on a single industrial site, a wide range of small businesses can be touched. Now imagine if every industrial site in the country invested some time and energy in project identification and development. Each site would play host to a number of projects such as the one illustrated above. We would have an engine for significant job creation, not founded on charity, but on good business practice. In this win-win scenario, individual industrial sites would become more competitive, conduct their operations in a more environmentally and socially responsible way, and create jobs, many of which would be in the type of skill areas that sorely need development in South Africa. We would truly have a green job creation machine powered by the next wave of industrial productivity - sustainability.