In this article you'll learn about one of the most effective sustainability concepts in the world: the Three Rs, their benefits, and their application in energy and utilities management
Sustainability is a frequent topic of discussion today. Projects and incentives are implemented so that companies and people worldwide see that this agenda is not just a trend to improve reputations but in fact a matter of extreme importance for the future and that it should be understood and practiced by everyone.
The volume of material globally that is not recycled is growing all the time, by about 2 billion tons a year according to a study by the United Nations (UN) and a large part of this comes from companies. These data are only for physical materials that are left in the environment and do not include the emission of polluting gases or excess consumption of energy among other things. Because of the need to achieve more than economic success, companies seek a sustainable growth-oriented policy that promotes ideas related to social, environmental, and economic aspects. Among concepts and projects related to continuous improvement, the Three R's become more significant every day (reduce, reuse and recycle).
In this article we explain the Three Rs and how they can be essential in helping companies become sustainable, helping society and without reducing profits.
What are the Three Rs?
The concept was created at two moments: the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and the Fifth Environmental Action Programme of the European Commission in 1993. The Three Rs cover every type of waste/effluent whether solid, liquid, or gas, and their principal significance is the search for waste reduction, whether by economy, reuse, or recycling, and can be used in any company. The Three Rs are undertaken consecutively and contiuously:
Considered the "most important R" of the three, the term "reduce" is the foundation for conscious consumption. This step consists of looking for ways to reduce the use of natural resources, materials, etc. as much as possible, since the less they are used in operational processes, for example, the lower the amount of waste generated and, consequently, discarded on the planet.
This reduction can be made in companies in a variety of ways, reducing the consumption of electricity, diesel fuel, gasoline, water, paper, aluminum, and iron, among other resources, natural or not, that could otherwise be discarded in the environment.
It is for each company to evaluate how the resources used in their processes can be improved. The adoption of systems that facilitate the reading of industrial processes or of daily expenses of a large office can help make reductions proactively where they are most needed. Everything from the use of a lamp at night to a blast furnace process of a large steel mill can be evaluated and adjusted to ensure that consumption is as low as possible.
Starting from the moment of consumption – after it has been reduced to the minimum needed – it is necessary to understand whether a given waste product is viable and how it can be reused, and how many times this will be possible. Thus unnecessary waste is avoided and cost reductions are generated for the company by reuse.
It may be that certain materials are no longer useful for one process but can be adapted to other areas of the company or another product in production.
At this point it is worth highlighting the importance of platforms that help with waste management, to monitor whether consumption is correct and how what is left over can be reused to generate savings, optimize processes, and reduce environmental impact.
The last but no less important step focuses the final effort so that waste is prevented from entering the environment: recycling. Today it is one of the best known steps and is practiced by companies and cities even though awareness of the subject is still short of what is needed.
To recycle is to define a new use for waste that was generated in a process and could not be reused in that process. Recycling can be done using new industrial or non-industrial processes. One example of recycling is the water used in steelmaking processes, since the waste can be recycled using treatments (effluent treatment stations) and reused.
Benefits for companies that adapt the Three Rs
The concepts are simple and help companies achieve social, environmental, and economic balance in addition to enabling companies in any segment to adapt. Companies that know their process will know where to reduce, reuse, and how to recycle, thereby ensuring a range of benefits:
- Cost reduction: using monitoring and an accurate view of the consumption of materials used in your processes, cost reductions will be achieved in all stages where the Three Rs have ben adopted;
- Market reputation: in addition to the direct financial gain from reducing costs, companies that demonstrate environmental awareness are more favorably viewed by the market and by current and future clients. A study by the MIT Sloan Management Review and The Boston Consulting Group indicates that 37% of companies that adopt sustainable practices increased their revenue, which only corroborates this assertion;
- Financial gains: using recycling it is possible that the company can resell raw materials and earn additional revenue;
- Improvements in planning and management: all of these actions can only be executed if the company's management and planning are efficient. Without consumption monitoring it is not possible to know the real cost of production, for example, what is interfering with attempted reductions. Of course if the Three Rs are applied in the company, departments will be able to manage and plan better every day.
The Three Rs applied to energy and utilities management
Integrated management of all of these practices is a complex task that deserves the support of a technology platform to confer agility, proactiveness, and transparency to actions of improvement and their results.
A good energy and utilities management system should be able to facilitate the natural integration of the Three Rs – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – with the management and operational routines of any organization.
The reduction of consumption, in particular specific consumption (quantity of energy per output unit), is directly related to cost reductions, improvements in energy efficiency levels, and the reduction of waste emissions and greenhouse gases.
The reuse of resources is in turn fundamental for sustaining performance and operational efficiency. The effective treatment of effluents and the search for high levels of recirculation and reuse of water promote security of operations and facilitate continuity.
Finally the recycling of resources, waste, and energy inputs is key to reducing environmental impact. The use of co-products for energy generation and the use of scrap, biomass, and other wastes are examples of good practices that contribute directly to environmental and economic sustainability of the business.