Close to the ‘World Earth Day’ ELGi ruminates on the significance of this annual day celebration, and reiterates its commitment to sustainable development. “We are looking beyond the traditional linear economy and the current take-make-waste extractive industrial model to weave in circularity across our processes, aiming to redefine growth and focus on positive, society-wide benefits,” says ELGi’s managing director Jairam Varadaraj.
Q. What’s the significance of ‘World Earth Day’ and how are you going to celebrate it this time?
The ravages from the massive oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara in California led to the conception of the first Earth Day in the 1970s. A watershed moment indeed as people, perhaps for the first time, came together and shared concern for our deteriorating environment. Fast forward to the present, where we’re on a rollercoaster ride to surpassing the global warming limit of + 1.5-degree (Celsius, or 2.7-degrees Fahrenheit). Unless we make changes to our lifestyles, reduce dependency on fossil fuel consumption, extend access to electricity, improve energy efficiency and increase the use of alternative fuels.
The theme for World Earth Day 2022 is #Invest in our planet. At ELGi, our commitment to addressing climate change comprises several low carbon initiatives coupled with a longer-term sustainability roadmap. For one, we’ve undertaken initiatives focused on reducing the carbon footprint of our manufacturing facilities and offices, together with a clearly defined focus on building energy-efficient products that enable companies around the globe to reduce their carbon footprint. Aside, our employees are our greatest advocates for contributing to and promoting our company’s sustainability focus. And we vehemently believe that individual action is a prerequisite for collective action while also influencing others’ behaviour. Taking our philosophy forward, on the 50th anniversary of World Earth Day, 2020, we introduced the ELGi ‘Steps for Change’ program, which encourages our employees to take environmental action and be socially responsible. With this purpose-driven program, every ELGi employee across the globe has committed to undertaking a small but significant environment-friendly initiative that positively impacts our environment and minimizes our carbon footprint across the world. The program has seen our employees explore emission-reducing lifestyle changes, plastic pollution action, university and school teaching, tree planting, local clean-ups or even switching to a more plant-based diet; all of this resulting in a positive impact on the environment while ensuring we collectively do our bit to reduce our carbon footprint across the world.
Q. What are the various green manufacturing practices you follow in your plant/s?
We began mapping our carbon dioxide emissions over a decade ago. We realised that about 85% of the emissions from our manufacturing units in India emanated from three sources: electricity, high-speed diesel (HSD) equipment, and waste sand generation.
Having identified the sources, we defined sustainable strategies to contain and reduce the emissions. At first count, we realised we were consuming approximately 12 million units of electricity annually at our manufacturing plants. The obvious question was: how do we reduce consumption? It was challenging to manually capture data or even continuously monitor the plants for increased power consumption with human effort. In 2017, we replaced our traditional energy meters with smart meters. This enabled the latter to sense loads based on amperage (strength of an electric current in amperes), sense whether the load is less or the machines are idle, and distribute the load optimally. This exercise resulted in savings of about 1.5 million units of electricity per year.In 2018, we introduced an Energy Management System (EnMS) at our Air Compressor Plant (ACP), our state-of-the-art campus at Kinathukadavu, near Coimbatore. At the ACP, close to 200 IoT-enabled machines, all connected and sharing data seamlessly, were deployed to analyze the captured data using advanced statistical tools, identify energy-saving opportunities, improve systems, and conserve energy. Since then, our plant operations have achieved over 24% energy efficiency with the implementation of IoT-enabled energy management systems, resulting in power reductions of around 1.02 megawatts per year and significant savings in annual power spends. Our Air Compressor Plant (ACP) has been certified by the ISO 50001:2018 Energy Management System, an annual certification audit by TUV Nord ensuring energy-efficient improvements year on year.
At the ELGi Foundry, set up in 2013 to produce special castings for captive consumption purposes, we’ve taken various steps to ensure that our employees work in a clean and healthy environment. Furthermore, we implemented dust collectors, filters, and wet scrubbers across the factory floor to ensure minimal carbon impact.
Q. How do you optimize waste generation?
At ELGi, we generate 36 different types of waste across all our manufacturing processes. Hence, we continue to adopt the waste management techniques of ‘Reduce – Recycle – Reuse’ in waste generation and disposal. Typically, the waste storage area is located in the backyard in any manufacturing unit. At ELGi, when building our air compressor plant (the ACP), we deliberately planned to have the waste storage area right upfront. This helps ensure the waste is visible, minimal, and the storage area is always kept clean. This is reflective of the waste management systems and processes in place at the unit.
How do we manage waste? To begin with, our manufacturing processes are planned and designed to use fewer natural resources, reduce pollution and waste, and recycle and reuse materials. As discussed earlier, we minimize the solid waste from our foundry via a circular and comprehensive solid waste management strategy. In a bid to dispose of hazardous waste generated at our manufacturing plants, all waste generated from machining processes is converted into a form of a cake before disposing of it through authorized agencies. This hazardous waste consists of 2000 Kcal/ Kg of calorific value. Additional additives are added to increase their calorific value. They are then converted into solid blocks, burned in cement kilns, and converted to ash.In line with our Rethink-Reuse-Upcycle approach and our circular system focus, we installed mechanical and thermal reclamation units that recover and recycle 96% of the sand utilized. Waste sand management at the ELGi Foundry was the third element of our carbon emission reduction efforts in operations. From 2017, dust generated, including fine sand, is collected through custom-made equipment and then converted into solid bricks that is used to construct buildings without compromising the quality of construction.
Q. What are the other steps you take to reduce the carbon footprints?
I’ve touched upon our core initiatives above. We remain committed to the triple bottom-line, i.e., remaining #alwaysbetter for the environment and ensuring our employees, customers, and the community benefit from a healthier, greener ecosystem. For example, to offset our Scope 1 and 2 emissions, we focused on developing and building dense, native forests at all our factory locations using the Miyawaki technique, which involves planting native species. Starting 2016, about a third of our manufacturing campus has been developed into a green belt with more than 3,000 trees and landscaped gardens across the manufacturing units. With this, we, together with our employees and family members, have remained committed to increasing the amount of carbon the land absorbs. Over 6000 diverse tree species have been planted to date, and over 30,000 trees will be planted over the next three years.
Finally, we are looking beyond the traditional linear economy and the current take-make-waste extractive industrial model to weave in circularity across our processes, aiming to redefine growth and focus on positive, society-wide benefits.
Q. On the energy management front, have you taken any initiatives to harness renewable energy and reduce dependence on grid power?
Increasing the share of renewable energy in the total energy pie is a critical element of ‘Green energy-driven manufacturing,’ resulting in lowered dependency on conventional resources of energy. As early as 1994, we initiated a process by which renewable wind energy generated through five 250 kW windmills contributed to approximately 15% of the total power consumed at our manufacturing units. Until 2016, the assembly plant at the headquarters consumed the entire power generated through these windmills. In 2016, the windmills were allocated for the ELGi Foundry, the ELGi Air Compressor Plant, and the assembly plant at headquarters in the ratio 2:2:1. More recently, we’ve signed off on a Solar Power agreement which will increase our renewable energy share to over 50% this year across manufacturing units.