Welcome to 2014!
During one of our monthly leadership conference calls, our Student Board Member, Nelson Granda, said that at a meeting of his student chapter he discussed the Sustainable Development Division. At that meeting he was asked by fellow students "What does industrial engineering have to do with sustainability?" My response is that industrial engineers were all about sustainability before that word came into fashion.
IE's are trained to think systemically and develop solutions that balance science, economics and the social requirements. The popular definition of sustainability is balancing the needs of planet, profit and people. We already focus on lean and zero waste, on global supply chains, on ergonomics and logistics. The way Industrial Engineers are taught to think gives them the skills to take a leadership role in the sustainable development of corporations, of communities, and of our planet.
When people think of sustainability, they think of green; and when they think of green, they think of do-gooders and tree huggers. For some that is a very positive set of associations. For others they prefer dealing with facts and figures and optimal solutions. Yet more and more I am reading and hearing reports of companies discovering that sustainable practices are not just good for the planet but are good for the bottom line.
There was recently a report on National Public Radio about Industry challenging the EPA's Greenhouse Gas Rules. Some industries are challenging EPA permits, arguing that performing the work to acquire the permit can be costly and time consuming. Interestingly, the power company Calpine Corp. — which has acquired six such permits for power plants in California, Texas and Delaware — defends the EPA's program in a legal brief filed with the Supreme Court.
NPR reports Derek Furstenwerth, Calpine's senior director for environmental services saying, "We haven't found this permitting program to be overly cumbersome or expensive. We haven't seen any significant increase in permitting time really."
Calpine has not had to buy expensive new pollution control equipment to get the permits, Furstenwerth says. It just had to build plants that will get the most electricity out of the fuel they burn, i.e. optimized systems.
"So it winds up that the permitting process and our economic interests in building the plants are pretty well aligned," Furstenwerth adds.
While the initial thought is that regulations designed to be good for the environment must be bad for business, we have come to see that in practice that does not have to be the case. And I would argue that IE’s by interest and training are in a perfect position to help find the common ground solutions that balance the needs of people, profit and planet.
There will be much more discussion on this topic during the Sustainability sessions at the IE Annual Conference in Montreal May 31 – June 3. Hopefully I will see you there and you will be part of the conversation.
John M. Corliss Jr., P.E.
President, IIE Sustainable Development Division