The industrial sector is central to tackling the climate crisis, as it is responsible for nearly a third of domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. These emissions are primarily associated with the fuel burned at industrial sites as well as the electricity purchased for operations.
Retailers, consumers and sustainability-minded manufacturers are fueling decarbonization efforts. Consumers are demanding cleaner products and many manufacturers across industries are responding to the call. Not doing so could result in bad press, reduced retail shelf space and lost customers.
Large retailers like Walmart and Target have set ambitious goals to align with the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. As such, these retailers are requiring that their supply chains proactively align with those goals by reducing their own GHG emissions. Their supply chains are being required to set goals, commit to achieving them and track progress through the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi).
The initiative is a collaboration among several environmental organizations that was created to help meet the Paris Agreement goals. SBTi provides a goal setting and tracking framework for various sectors. Companies make commitments formally through a letter submission to SBTi that’s validated by that organization. Upon acceptance, companies are held to reporting standards that prove progress toward meeting their stated goals. This accountability framework helps prove that real work is being performed to meet those targets. The program’s structure and tools can be helpful guides to owners interested in improving their sustainability profile.
As manufacturers edge closer toward carbon reduction deadlines, it’s important to consider holistically the changes they need to make and how it can impact their core business. Carbon reduction strategies are not a one-size-fits-all solution. Manufacturers need to consider all facets of their business before developing a decarbonization strategy. A good plan will not compromise resiliency and operating flexibility and will depend on energy needs, availability of renewable fuels, power costs, and the capacity for efficiency improvements.
It’s key to develop carbon reduction strategies that are multifaceted and are “future flexible.” This means that several strategies are used together in the near term to reduce GHG emissions while allowing room to adopt evolving low or zero GHG production technologies.
First, consideration should be given to understanding and reducing natural gas and energy use at each site. Second, strategies should be developed to implement on-site renewable energy systems, such as burn renewable fuels, implement offset strategies or consider electrification to purchase renewable electricity from the grid. Third, back-end solutions such as carbon capture could be considered.
With the mindset that consumers and government regulations will continue to drive the grid toward carbon neutrality, manufacturers often consider these common strategies when contemplating sustainability measures for lowering their carbon dioxide (CO2) footprint:
- Biomass and renewable fuels
- Carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS)
- Carbon offset credits or “RECs”
- Cogeneration projects that serve as a bridge to the future
- Energy efficiency projects to reduce fossil fuel and electrical use
- Energy storage (thermal energy storage, battery energy storage)
- Geothermal exchange systems
- Procurement of low or no carbon electricity
- Simultaneous heating and cooling
- Site-generated wind and solar installations
Decarbonization efforts are not yet driving profits. Thus far, they are just considered the cost of doing business. Across the globe, industrial manufacturers are increasingly exploring ways to decarbonize their assets and processes. To effectively do so, it’s becoming increasingly important to understand the real costs — including dollars and social costs — of the energy they consume.
Manufacturers continue to need support to develop multifaceted decarbonization strategies that consider the big picture. This includes strategic thinking and collaboration that helps them identify their needs. In a bid to make clients successful, forward-thinking consultants are always learning about and imparting new approaches to solve the decarbonization problem.
Each manufacturer and each production site is different and requires individualized solutions to meet respective resiliency and sustainability goals. Good strategies for reducing GHG emissions allow for manufacturers to evolve into the future and not be constrained or financially burdened. This leads to decarbonization plans that are truly sustainable in the long term.
For manufacturers who want to sustainably reduce greenhouse gas emissions while striving to maintain energy resiliency, future flexibility and operational stability, an integrated decarbonization approach is essential.