Making sustainable engineering pay

08 March 2022

Sustainable engineering is not just good for the environment, it can also improve capital and operational efficiency, which brings financial gains says Amish Sabharwal.

COP26 saw the world’s nations come together and make new environmental pledges, including a US-China agreement to boost cooperation in combating climate change, India’s pledge to achieve net zero by 2070 and 23 countries committing to phasing out coal. 

However, it will take more than government pledges to keep the global temperature rise below the agreed 1.50C. Industry has a key role to play in fighting climate change, which is why there has been a recent shift towards the prioritisation of environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals across all sectors, with many organizations making a pledge to achieve net zero by 2040.

While this is, of course, the right thing to do, it is also becoming a business necessity as investors tand consumers start to turn their backs on investments that do not support sustainable outcomes. Investment and asset management firm BlackRock, for example, has made commitments to extend funding exclusively to companies that demonstrate progress against their specific ESG initiatives. 

Today, moving towards greener capital projects and operations should not just be done to gain regulatory approval – it is also needed to secure access to funding. Investors understand that sustainable engineering and operations are not just ethically commendable, they are good business, too. 

There is a growing body of evidence pointing out that higher sustainability performance converts into a better financial performance. An impressive 90% of studies on the topic found that high ESG standards reduced companies’ capital costs and that 80% show a positive correlation between stock price performance and good sustainability practices. 

Discover potential gains
One of the easiest ways to discover potential sustainability gains is through digital transformation. The latest technologies can help you design sustainable plants more quickly, and also build and run them more efficiently as, according to Deloitte, digital transformation can provide a 5-10% reduction in build costs and a 10-20% reduction in operational costs. 

Digital transformation also benefits existing brownfield sites by enabling improved decision-making and real-time performance optimisation. Driving both efficiency and sustainability initiatives forward simultaneously, benefits can include reduced energy consumption, waste and emissions. 

This is achieved through the use of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), process simulation, cloud computing, big data analytics and digital twins to operate assets sustainably by understanding their performance and predicting future behaviour.

The insights provided can help reduce operational and maintenance costs by approximately 20%;  can reduce fuel costs by 28%; can significantly improve asset safety, efficiency and reliability, and drive productivity, all by providing fast and accurate data about what is happening across the business.

A recent AVEVA survey found that 85% of industrial leaders plan to drive sustainability by increasing their investment in digital transformation over the next three years.

Sharing datasets
Two-thirds of organisations believe the ability to share datasets across teams in real time will have the greatest impact on sustainability, while significant sustainability gains can also come from solutions such as data monitoring. Digital solutions such as cloud computing, machine learning, AI, and digital twins will be needed to achieve these capabilities. 

Take multinational business Henkel, for example. The laundry and homecare giant used an energy monitoring system to analyse and lower energy use by 16% year-on-year, saving it €37m to date and playing its part to shape a more sustainable future. 

Another example of digital transformation’s effect on sustainability comes from Covestro, which used process simulation to improve the energy efficiency, and therefore sustainability, of its Germany-based brownfield sites. 

Christian Redepenning, a global technology expert at Covestro recently stated that process simulation can directly determine the optimal energy efficient process by simulation-based optimization. When comparing the optimal process with the actual energy consumption directly it reveals the inefficiencies of processes and opportunities for improvement.

Another example is Aker Carbon Capture’s implementation of a single engineering platform. This helped the organisation to develop new sustainable processes such as carbon capture by breaking down data silos and increasing engineering and design efficiency. Using integrated engineering and project execution technologies on the cloud, Aker was able to improve collaboration between teams, resulting in increased engineering efficiency which allows it to deliver new carbon capture facilities 50% faster. 

Working in the cloud allowed its people to engage much more easily across projects and geographies and it has been possible to optimise the way teams work together. 

As organisations focus on sustainability and look for ways to accelerate their journey to net zero, they are discovering more and more that sustainable engineering and operations isn’t just good for the environment, but also for their bottom line. 

Digital transformation unlocks the performance benefits of advanced technology to gain efficiencies that both improve sustainability and lower costs. Going green will help keep your business in the black. 

Amish Sabharwal is executive vice president, Engineering Business Unit at AVEVA.

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