How Saint-Gobain Is Helping to Create a Greener Planet
By Rebecca Phan (August 2021)
Earth Day, annually celebrated on April 22, was originally founded in 1970 by the United States Senator Gaylord Nelson to celebrate ecology and life on earth and is traditionally observed when the sun is directly above the equator. We are honoring this day and every day by connecting with team members like Ryan Spies from the parent company of Omniseal Solutions™, North America, and partners like Gabe Schwartz from Stem Inc. This will help us to find the “great good” we do when we work together.
As the Director of Sustainability, Energy, and Stewardship for Saint-Gobain North America, Ryan says that he is “fortunate to work for a company that not only celebrates this day but considers every day an opportunity to help create a greener planet. From recycling to serving the renewable energy markets and providing innovative engineered solutions to meet global energy growth, at Saint-Gobain, we are committed to assessing how our actions as a company affect four key areas: energy usage, water usage, waste creation, and CO2 emissions. With ambitious goals to voluntarily reduce each of these on a per unit per production basis by 2025 based on 2010 baselines across our sites, my role is to create programs and serve as a resource to help our plants meet them.”
What programs are we working on in Saint-Gobain that he is most excited about?
Sustainability Summit: Every year in Saint-Gobain, we hold a sustainability summit in May that each of our 130 sites is invited to attend, including plant managers, business leaders, and on-site “sustainability champions”. Everyone convenes to share interesting projects, best practices, and ideas, and to network across business lines. We also recognize sites with a fun awards ceremony that involves bestowing massive championship wrestling belts for achievements in waste, water, energy, and carbon reduction.
Artificial Intelligence-Powered Energy Storage: Late last year, we announced a major initiative with Stem to leverage artificial intelligence (AI) with access to the world’s largest energy storage network. This partnership with Stem and our Garden Grove, California, manufacturing facility is aimed at shifting the times electricity is produced and used to be cleaner, put less strain on the grid and decrease costs by avoiding “demand charges” that can comprise close to 50% of monthly energy bills.
The 230,000 square-foot Garden Grove facility houses many energy-intensive pieces of equipment due to their key businesses of Saint-Gobain: Omniseal Solutions™, which designs and manufactures Omniseal™ spring-energized and rotary lip seals, mostly for aviation and space markets; Saint-Gobain Process Systems, which manufactures tubing products; and Sekurit, which manufactures glazing solutions. Hosting a 1 Megawatt-hour (MWh) energy storage system powered by Athena (the world’s first artificial intelligence for energy storage) that went live in July 2018, the facility is participating in Stem’s grid support network for Los Angeles and Orange counties.
With electricity varying in price and impact by how much and when it is used, optimizing it is complex. Stem’s Athena AI platform is the brains of its systems, analyzing data at a rate of 400 megabytes per minute, to discover energy usage at facilities and electricity grid patterns. Athena anticipates the best times to buy electricity. It automatically discharges an on-site battery at Saint-Gobain’s Garden Grove site when higher levels of energy are needed. The battery is recharged at other times during the day, such as when the state has a surplus of solar energy.
When heatwaves and wildfires strain the grid (an often occurrence in California), Stem’s energy storage systems at the Garden Grove site and other locations are dispatched, providing Southern California Edison (SCE) with needed power. Since the system was installed, it has made the following contributions:
The network of systems was activated by SCE on 27 different days last summer and fall while wildfires were burning in central and southern California, reducing strain on the grid for periods ranging from one to four hours.
Saint-Gobain’s involvement repeatedly provided critical support to the electric system during local fire disasters, helping to keep the lights on for the broader community.
Throughout 2018’s tragic fire season, Saint-Gobain’s system provided grid relief equivalent to the amount of energy used by 900 homes on an average day.
With a greater focus on sustainability and the cost of batteries decreasing, more companies are looking to AI to better leverage energy. Gabe Schwartz, VP product marketing for Stem, says that close to 300 organizations using its technology span industries from education to medicine, manufacturing, and large retailers – like JC Penney and Whole Foods – in North America, as well as worldwide.
Companies are also increasingly using Stem systems to “keep the lights on” at their facilities when power outages occur and to become two-way participants in the electricity market providing these and other grid services. “We see energy storage as a long-term strategy to better control decision-making around it and be less beholden to utilities and the old way of doing things,” says Gabe, who was also a past speaker at a Saint-Gobain’s sustainability summit. “If you use a lot of electricity and the cost varies by timing, this could be a good solution for you.”
“So much of Saint-Gobain is committed to innovation for the company to thrive for another 100 years. The energy infrastructure is an important part of that. In addition to giving back to the community, our partnership with Saint-Gobain shows its commitment to the business, and the supply chain and staying ahead of the curve.”
The Saint-Gobain Garden Grove team is happy to be a part of this national pilot to help the local community and reduce the need to build plants that might otherwise only run for a small percentage of time during the year. We expect to expand our relationship with Stem and are looking to put our San Diego site online next, followed by several others in the next five years.
The Compressed Air Challenge: Compressed air is one of the most expensive and energy-intensive services our manufacturing sites use, and the compressed air challenge is another energy-saving project that we are particularly proud of. At Saint-Gobain, we ran a competition from October 2018 to the end of the year for sites throughout North America, with the goal to engage employees in a topic that is not necessarily their first job: energy reduction. Saint-Gobain awarded small prizes every week and larger ones at the end of the competition for those who instituted compressed air leak detection programs. Proving that you can’t manage what you can’t measure, sites that did best were those that instituted programs focused on continuous monitoring to enable them to more readily respond to spikes and dips in data.
Lighting as a Service: We are proud of our Huntsville, Alabama site’s intuitiveness in being the first to implement “lighting as a service”. When the plant wanted to upgrade lighting, instead of spending all of its capital, it hired a company to come in and install its own lights. Saint-Gobain “leases” the lights and pays for the project out of energy savings in watts per year and a portion of the cost of the equipment. The end result is that this plant saves energy and gets to keep some of the cash in pocket that would have been spent upfront on the lighting. Now that other sites see the results, they also want to get on board.
Water Conservation: Water is often overlooked as a resource until it becomes scarce. Our McPherson, Kansas site took the initiative to see just how much water it was using and might conserve, with a holistic view of where all of its water was going. The site worked with the Department of Energy and a corporate Saint-Gobain engineer in the sustainability department to map out water usage, evaluate metering and flows throughout the plant, identifying leaks, and, ultimately, cut water usage by fifty percent.
Just by the nature and character of many of Saint-Gobain products and businesses, we also help to reduce emissions. For instance, Omniseal Solutions™, and Saint-Gobain APS are helping companies be more efficient with space-saving parts in automotive with their rectangular seals, aviation and industrial with composite solutions and energy with stem seals to reduce fugitive emissions, along with advancing the growing trend of recycling in space and developing sustainable solutions that achieve a longer life in life sciences.
The business also worked with the world's first supplier of industrial CO2 dyeing equipment with its seals installed in Netherlands-based DyeCoo’s environmentally-friendly industrial dyeing machines, where carbon dioxide is used to save billions of liters of water and prevent billions of gallons of toxic chemicals from being dumped into waterways. Additionally, samples of Omniseal®, Rulon®, and Meldin® sealing and polymer parts are on display at Greentown Labs' Cleantech Center for Startup Growth to support startup growth for future energy and sustainable solutions.
What is the future when it comes to Saint-Gobain, Omniseal Solutions™, and sustainability? Energy efficiency has to be a continuing initiative. We are constantly thinking of new opportunities to ensure a smaller footprint. Stay tuned for major projects that we are particularly excited to be a part of and that we will be sharing soon. Our teams are focused on bringing people together, getting them excited about environmental, health, and safety opportunities, driving results through strong relationships, and recognizing a job well done. We cannot wait for just one day to recognize the importance of sustainability. After all, we only have one planet!
Contact us if you wish to work with us on sustainable solutions.