By Randy B. Hecht
What’s the big idea? In sustainable innovation, it can be an aggregation of small ideas with a huge collective impact.
The “a-ha moment.” The idea that bursts forth like a bolt of lightning. The inspired invention that merits a showbiz-style introduction. (“Drumroll, please!”)
We all love those strokes of genius whose arrival means things will never be the same again. But great change also evolves out of smaller innovations that reflect a creative mindset and a commitment to making sustainable contributions to the health and well-being of our planet.
With our history of creating sustainability solutions for our clients, green thinking is already integral to our mission. Now we’re intensifying our efforts to bring this perspective to our own workplace, operations and personal conduct.
An evolving environ-mentality
Sustainable innovation isn’t just what we do when we get to the office. It’s also how we get to the office: for example, by electric vehicle, knowing that there are charging stations available in Oerlikon parking lots at a growing number of locations. Increasingly, you’ll also see Oerlikon electric vehicles in use for pick-up and delivery of customer tools at our coating centers.
For the Oerlikon team in Aurangabad, India, green thinking translated to supporting nature and wildlife conservation in the forests and hills surrounding our facility. Snakes play an important role in the local ecosystem by controlling invasive species and preventing overpopulation of rodents and poisonous snakes. In collaboration with forest officials and licensed trainers, team members learned to catch snakes that ventured onto the property and release them back into their natural habitat.
In May, the Aurangabad team introduced an additional sustainable measure: composting at the company garden to convert food waste into nourishment for the soil. The facility further addresses the problem of waste by distributing unpacked, leftover meals to those in need in the local community.
In addition, our site in Vadodara, India became the proving grounds for launching our transition to solar power. We installed a grid-connected rooftop solar photovoltaic power generating system at the facility in 2018. The panels produced about 40% of the electricity used at the facility in 2019, and that rose to 50% in 2020. This initial solar initiative provides Oerlikon with a blueprint for expanded use of this environmental and economic renewable energy source at additional facilities worldwide.
A clear vision and cleaner operations
At the Oerlikon facility in Remscheid, Germany, energy consumption provided another context for sustainable innovation. The facility implemented a combined heat and power plant, that redirects waste heat produced during the process and uses it in the heating system. The initial system went live in 2016 and was so successful that a second was built in 2019. Today, these systems are achieving a 45% reduction in CO2 emissions compared with traditional power generators.
Sustainable systems and processes have also been an area of focus in Suzhou, China, where the Oerlikon team identified energy reduction, water cleaning and reuse of packaging as areas in which it could have the greatest impact. Equipment updates led to efficiency improvements there that lowered electricity consumption by 430,000 kWh, which translates to 302 T of reduced CO2 emissions annually. In addition, the Zero Wastewater Project updated the water cleaning system from ultrasound to plasma, which lives up to the target of producing zero wastewater, down from 30 t/a. At the same time, a packaging redesign is reducing the use of wood materials by up to 500 m3 annually on initial use — and because the packaging material can be reused up to five times, an additional annual saving of up to 3,500 m3 in wood and an additional 38,000 kg in metal can be achieved.
Finally, our site in Liechtenstein provides an example to follow not just in greening operations, but in achieving fully CO2 neutrality. Measures and methods in place at this facility include photovoltaic systems, a wood heating plant, energy purchases from a hydropower plant, PET recycling and e-mobility support for employees who use electric cars or bicycles in their commutes.
We continue to seek more opportunities to implement climate-friendly behaviors, processes and practices. At Oerlikon, we remain committed to sustainability not just as a value in innovations for customers, but as integral to the way we do business.