September 22, 2016 / All Stories

Protecting the earth, one pound of CO2 at a time

Energy management has been the unseen hero of the sustainability world. Now, it’s finally getting its time in the (energy efficient) spotlight. 

Efforts at AbbVie Sligo have saved roughly 4,066,000 lbs of CO2 annually.

If you walked by a factory adorned with a roof full of solar panels, what would you think? The word green might come to mind, or perhaps the terms environmentally responsible or eco-conscious. You might be pleased with the efforts the factory had taken to improve energy efficiency.  

Yet, despite being honored with an international award for their accomplishments, the efforts of the energy team at AbbVie’s facility in Sligo, Ireland, are mostly unseen by the general public. That’s because much of what they’ve done to reduce the Sligo site’s carbon and energy footprint is behind the scenes, and is only understood by a few knowledgeable experts. 

One of these experts is Carl Salas, awards chairman of the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE), the organization honoring the Sligo energy team with the International Energy Award. The AEE, whose mission is to “promote the scientific and educational interests of those engaged in the energy industry and to foster action for sustainable development,” will present the Sligo team with this award at the 39th Annual World Energy Engineering Conference.  

“An issue energy engineers face is that when you do a really good energy project, no one notices. Say we replace a very inefficient light with a very efficient light. This will reduce greenhouse gases and make the world a better place. … But only someone working behind the scenes would realize this,” Salas says. “We wanted to shine the light on all the great work people are doing that goes unnoticed.” 

Realizing that positive efforts should be highlighted, the AEE formed in 1978 and started its international award program shortly thereafter. 

Saving energy, one project at a time

The awarded program, “Reduce Carbon Footprint,” set the objective of delivering an annual energy savings of an estimated 26 percent of the overall energy cost, while delivering a reduction of 3,590 metric tons of CO2 through sustainable development. 

Projects included the installation of a waste heat recovery boiler on a thermal oxidizer that uses liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) as fuel; converting from kerosene-fuelled steam heating to LPG-fuelled hot water heating while adding waste heat recovery; and switching to a combined heat pump and HVAC chiller with waste heat recovery. 

These efforts – all in accordance with ISO 50001 procedures – saved roughly 4,066,000 pounds of CO2 annually, which is the equivalent of taking more than 385 cars off the road for one year.

The AEE award recognizes the Sligo team’s energy projects and achievements over the last couple of years, and the promotion of practices and principles of engineering and energy management on site, nationally and internationally. 

Although the AEE received scores of applications, Sligo’s stood out. 

“One of the things we liked (about this program) is that they blended greenhouse gases and carbon reduction with energy, understanding there’s a direct link between the two,” Salas says. “Take the equivalent of every solar panel you’ve seen, multiply that by 10, and that’s what they have accomplished this year.”

Power to - and from - the people

Successful energy efforts don’t happen with the wave of a magic wand, but rather the concerted, collaborative efforts of a strong team over a number of years. 

The Sligo facility was the first in Ireland to address how to save energy and reduce its carbon footprint by implementing 
ISO 50001 standards  for improving energy management systems. These standards helped them with new ideas. 

“Everybody onsite is encouraged to participate in (brainstorming), and some of them throw up little nuggets that develop into new projects,” says Peter Moran, Sligo energy lead. 

Inspiration also comes from AbbVie’s global energy team, led by James Gallagher, senior manager, environment, health and safety, AbbVie, which meets on a monthly basis. The team consists of an energy manager or “energy champion” from every one of the company’s sites. 

“James does a great job in keeping the network together, pulling information from each one of us, asking what we’re working on, so we can share and benchmark each other,” Moran says. 

The global team has four goals: setting aggressive targets, increasing low carbon energy supplies, improving management investment and developing a low carbon supply chain. They’re also working on ways to track and quantify the efforts of every site. 

“This year, we’re spending some time and effort discussing an energy roadmap, which is providing a means to evaluate, rank and identify sites that are best in class, like Sligo, and also sites that are on the other end of the spectrum. We want to share areas where we need to improve,” Gallagher says. 

Not invisible, but transparent

The champions of energy management might not always be visible, but they do focus on being transparent. 

According to Gallagher, the past four years have brought a more aggressive approach to both energy management and transparency regarding these efforts. 

“With our commitment to data collection, we have transparency that we haven’t had before. When you have transparency on the numbers, you can see our water footprint, our energy footprint, and how much our energy costs. And when you have those figures, then you can set long range targets,” he says.

Target in sight

As AbbVie begins implementing its new 2025 and 2035 environmental targets, the story of Sligo’s success takes on new meaning. 

“Creating these new targets is a reflection of how well our environmental teams have done, because they were performing over and above the targets that were in place,” says Katharine Jensen, director of corporate responsibility, AbbVie. “That’s why the global energy team was able to set these new goals, which are more ambitious.”

“It would be easy to think to yourself, we’ve done all of this; we’ve run out of opportunities to improve,” Moran says. “But then when you start talking to the other sites and begin benchmarking, you see there’s so much more that can be done. There will always be other opportunities to reduce our environmental footprint.”

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Mary Kathryn Steel
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