To make sustainability real, make it personal

Neil Hawkins and Joe Árvai

Marc-Grégor Campredon 

Dow employees applying real-time learnings from the Sustainability Academy to their team project, designed to support one of Dow’s 2025 Sustainability Goals.

From the perspective of business, engaging employees is critical to developing and advancing a company’s sustainability goals. The feeling is mutual from the perspective of current, not to mention future employees: A company’s sustainability goals are important to the process of attracting and retaining the top talent.

But meaningful engagement across the entire spectrum of a company’s operations can be challenging. Many employees are often unsure how their job roles connect with a company’s sustainability programs and strategies, and many companies find it challenging to integrate — and inspire — leadership on sustainability in the day-to-day activities in their workforce. The net result: Employees often end up being an underused and undermotivated resource in a company’s sustainability journey.

Dow recognized these challenges early on and began to address them with its company-wide commitment to 2015, and now, 2025 Sustainability Goals, which have sought to redefine the role that business plays in society. A primary objective of the goals is to mobilize the human element — employees, suppliers, customers and the communities in which they live and work — to improve the well-being of people the world over.

To take the 2025 goals to the next level within the company, Dow collaborated with the Erb Institute of the University of Michigan in 2017 to design and launch the Dow Sustainability Academy. The Dow-Erb partnership has proven to be incredibly successful, productive, fun and, yes, sustainable. Dow brought to the table its decades of experience on making business sustainability real, and Erb brought its 20-year track record of being at the leading edge of research and teaching at the intersection of business, society and the environment.

The result of this partnership is a business-sustainability leadership and development program that provides Dow employees with the tools and insights they need to bring sustainability into their daily work. As part of the academy, Dow employees — selected as part of a competitive, application-based process — spend a week in training at the Erb Institute.

During this time, they learn from and interact with some of the world’s leading experts on a wide range of topics, from making the business case for sustainability and the policy backdrop against which business sustainability unfolds, to hands-on tools for implementing the elusive triple bottom line. When the in-class sessions come to a close, academy participants work on real-world projects related to one of the Dow sustainability goals and are given six months to use what they learned in Ann Arbor to complete them.

Recently, we had the pleasure of watching project teams from the second group of academy members present their project solutions to Dow leaders, as well as to the next contingent of employees chosen to be part of the academy. Each team passed along their advice to their successors in the academy, and it struck us while we listed to them that their learnings apply to not only academy participants but to anyone seeking to collaborate, stretch and grow at their company and in their career.

Here’s some of what we heard:

Avoid solutions that are attractive only because they are obvious or easy. One team was asked to determine the theoretical limits of how much emissions can be reduced from each Dow site, plant, equipment and technology. The aim was to help Dow achieve its 2025 Operations Sustainability Goal of growing the company globally over the next decade without allowing the company’s greenhouse gas emissions to exceed its 2006 baseline.

Team members had to reach outside their area of expertise and talk with dozens of people across Dow sites to understand and catalog the possible opportunities. By asking questions and — importantly — challenging assumptions about what previously were thought to be the performance range of various technologies and equipment, the group was able to identify additional, significant opportunities for reducing emissions.

When you face challenges, remember that your vision and passion are your North Star. All the projects carried out by academy participants require engaging in complex systems and with multiple stakeholders. In this kind of environment, sustainability objectives aren’t easy to define, and decisions must be made in an information-rich environment characterized by high levels of uncertainty.

One team, tasked with reducing food waste at a Dow site as part of the company’s goal to advance a circular economy, admitted that it was easy to get lost in rabbit holes or mired in red tape. However, by being true to their vision of what was possible, and by being persistent — “no” was not an acceptable answer — they were able to find both a workable solution for composting at a Dow site and identify local groups receptive and able to receive the compost.

Make “change agent” part of your job description. There’s a saying at Erb: When it comes to sustainability in business, be prepared to invent the job you want and then go do it. In other words, don’t wait to be anointed; being a change agent is a title you can bestow upon yourself.

The same goes for participants in the academy. One group was tasked with identifying a single project that aligned neatly with Dow’s valuing nature goal; the requirements were that the project had to be good for business but even better for the natural environment. Rather than identifying just one project, members took it upon themselves to identify one project each, for a total of three. From creating sustainable prairie habitat at company headquarter and planting native grasses to reduce erosion at a Seadrift, Texas, site to waste reduction at a plant in Freeport, Texas, these projects were heralded for their ability to cut emissions, rehabilitate the environment and bring business value to Dow.

As we get set to embark upon our fourth Dow Sustainability Academy, we could not be more delighted by what we have seen from those who have graduated from it. By thinking critically and creatively about sustainability’s role on the job, employees not only found answers to drive Dow’s sustainable practices but established critical leadership skills.

They learned to apply ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit to address sustainability challenges and to respond to sustainability opportunities.

They began to see those sustainability decisions are real opportunities for setting and then achieving objectives and that business sustainability really is a journey that will require vision, leadership and course corrections along the way.

And they found that no matter their job titles, they actively could incorporate tools for sustainability into their jobs — and into their lives outside of work — in order to be champions for lasting, positive change.

That’s a win for employees, for Dow and Erb, and — most importantly — for society

 

Source: GreenBiz

RPSEA Outlines Oil & Gas Research Needs for the Next Decade

The nonprofit research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEAhas unveiled a comprehensive 10-year plan for advancing research into sustainable oil and gas technology that aims to help cement the status of the U.S. as a leading global producer well into the future.

The wish list of research needs addresses a diverse roster of topics that ranges widely from studies on streamlining the development of offshore reservoirs to improving well recovery in shale plays and advancing environmentally sensitive practices.

“No one knows what the energy industry will look like in the next 10 years, but we do know in order to maintain our leadership position, the United States must compete on a global basis, (and) take full advantage of rapidly evolving technology and address the variety of challenges we will face,” RPSEA President Tom Williams said in a press release.

The Research & Development Plan (R&D Plan) is being released at a critical point in the history of the U.S. oil industry.

Fueled by the shale revolution and development of complex deepwater reservoirs, U.S. oil production surged to a 37-year high of 10 million barrels per day in November and output is expected to continue climbing to a fresh all-time record this year, according to the federal Environmental Information Administration.

U.S. oil production hit a 37-year high of 10 million b/d in November 2017. Source: EIA

With output pushing higher and an oil-friendly administration in the White House, the need to focus on sustainable, environmentally conscious development practices is more apparent than ever.

The R&D Plan draws heavily on input from industry stakeholders and RPSEA’s network of subject matter experts, including universities, national laboratories, as well as large and small energy producers and consumers. It also builds on the foundation of RPSEA’s successful program in the past decade working with the industry, academia, and the Department of Energy National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL).

Onshore Research Needs

Included in the research needs outlined in the R&D Plan are calls for studies into the most effective strategies and technologies for developing unconventional reservoirs, such as the Marcellus Shale in Appalachia, the Bakken Shale in North Dakota and the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas.

The report notes that the average U.S. shale well currently recovers less than 10% for oil production and 15% for gas production, making the enhancement of reservoir recovery an issue of great interest for all stakeholders. It suggests research into better reservoir characterization to improve the well design and wellbore placement to boost recovery.

As shale development increases, the R&D Plan also recommends examining of issues surrounding flowlines, pipelines, and stray gas especially in areas where population growth has occurred on top of old and sometimes abandoned flowlines that were not mapped or identified.

This need was highlighted last year by an incident in Firestone, Colorado. A home in relatively new Front Range neighborhood was destroyed in an explosion linked to an old flowline that was thought to be out of service. The accident led to two deaths and prompted state regulators to call for the inspection of wells and flowlines across the state.

“The domestic unconventional gas resource has dramatically altered the energy picture in the U.S.,” the report said. “As attention turns toward shale gas resources around the world, the technologies developed through this program and applied to the environmentally responsible development of domestic resources will keep U.S. companies and universities in the forefront of global unconventional resource development.”

The R&D Plan also included a call for documenting the impact of shale gas production on regional air and water quality, with proposed projects on environmental baseline monitoring, fugitive methane emissions and fracturing flow back water characterization.

Water management was highlighted as a universal issue, with the cost of recycling being an important factor. Though the report noted that advances are somewhat restricted by regulations, liability, risks, transportation, sourcing, and disposal. It also highlighted a need for research and better technologies to monitor and manage water disposal related to induced seismicity.

Offshore Research Needs

Offshore production research needs were also a subject of significance in the R&D plan. In recent years, several big deepwater developments have come online that pushed the technological boundaries of the industry to new limits and helped to propel production from the federal Gulf of Mexico to a record 1.7 million b/d in November, EIA data show.

Deepwater reservoirs are particularly challenging and costly to develop. They require years of advance planning and pose unique operating challenges and risks.  The R&D plan recommends further research into a variety of issues associated with this output to find ways to streamline the process of bringing new wells online while minimizing environmental impacts.

“The goal of Offshore Program is to develop environmentally sensitive, cost-effective technologies to identify and develop resources in increasingly challenging conditions and ensure that the understanding of the risks associated with deepwater operations keeps pace with the technologies that industry has developed,” the R&D Plan said.

Becoming a Safety Leader

The research model RPSEA has developed includes actively engaging stakeholders across the entire community of energy producers, researchers, technology providers, regulators and environmental groups.

And while the R&D Program was primarily developed to promote the safe delivery of energy resources to U.S. citizens, any discoveries could also be extended to oil and gas production in other countries across the world.

“While the U.S. is currently a leader in terms of the development of oil and gas (in particular, the onshore unconventional shale resources), other nations are beginning to see these resources as an important component of a plan to move toward a lower-carbon, sustainable energy mix,” Williams said.

Offshore, oil, gas, drilling

Petroleum Engineers Play an Important Role in Sustainability

Some people balk at the idea that oil and gas has a role to play in a sustainable future, but the reality on the ground suggests otherwise.

“Supplying energy for the world is a monumental task. There continue to be improvements in renewable energy sources; however, reasonable forecasts of growth in renewables suggest fossil fuels will remain the primary source of the world’s energy for decades to come,” Nathan Meehan, president of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, wrote in an article published by SPE in March 2016.

Even with the increasing adoption of renewable energy resources, Meehan notes that fossil fuels still play an important role in meeting today’s energy needs and using them prudently is the best way to make sure that our generation does not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The drive toward renewables is evident in the US where last year nearly half of utility-scale capacity additions on the power grid came from renewable sources like solar and wind, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

But even with the recent gains, renewables only account for a minority of total US power production and their intermittent nature creates the need for energy storage or backup generation that can be brought online quickly – like natural gas fired power plants – to stabilize the grid. The bulk of heavy lifting in the US power generation sector is still done by natural gas (34%), coal (30%) and nuclear (20%), according to EIA data.

This data suggests that fossil fuels will still be needed for decades to come in the power generation sector, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. A myriad of other industries count on energy and products derived from oil and natural gas.

Considering this, SPE takes seriously the need to extract these resources sustainably.

Though many people may not realize it, there are many things that petroleum engineers can do to help ensure that oil and gas is part of a sustainable energy solution. Meehan says these areas include:

  • Minimizing methane emissions
  • Reducing or eliminating flaring
  • Supporting energy efficiency and conservation
  • Ensuring wellbore integrity
  • Reducing the surface footprint of wells
  • Eliminating spills
  • Optimizing field development and management

SPE offers its members opportunities to train, share knowledge and advance practices to further these goals.

SPE’s efforts supplement work being done by a number of producers, several of which voluntarily release sustainability reports that highlight their unique measures – like Statoil, Shell, and Hess. To learn more about what petroleum engineers can do, visit SPE’s website or read Meehan’s full article on the subject here.

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