The set of standards known as Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Criteria may be considered an unnecessary distraction by hardened instrumentation and control engineering professionals. There is, however, a tsunami of demand globally to demonstrate these principles in an organizational setting, and almost a third of all professionally managed assets (~$US30trillion) are now considered defined by ESG.
The first standard – Environmental – involves a commitment to sustainability, including a reduction in CO2 emissions (ultimately carbon neutrality) and a reduction in waste, energy, and water consumption.
The second standard – Social – focuses on improving diversity, equity, and inclusion in an organization. It also encourages the consideration and betterment of the community.
The last standard – Governance – urges organizations to be guided by ethical business practices (with external oversight) and to be responsible global, corporate citizens.
As the old mantra goes: ‘what gets measured, gets managed’, but are better outcomes the result of imposing these standards? And as engineering professionals, can we uphold them? In practical terms, the Environmental standard is a natural focus for engineering professionals.
The instrumentation professional is pivotally placed to reduce our impact on the environment. For example, good PID control cuts pump speed based on flow data. This saves power, lessens wear-and-tear, and therefore contributes to sustainability. Similarly, remote monitoring translates into fewer site visits, which in turn reduces emissions (and saves money).
The devil is always in the detail, but there are generally two overarching approaches when dealing with environmental issues and climate change. The first is mitigation: reducing emissions and increasing efficiency – and adaptation – protecting infrastructure to offset the inevitable impact of climate change.
These approaches are not mutually exclusive; both should be considered and adopted. Bolting on renewable energy sources or recycling water, for example, would be considered mitigation. Adaptation, on the other hand, may involve protecting a site and its infrastructure from frequent flooding and higher temperatures. Obvious solutions would include moving equipment to higher ground and adjusting building specs.
There are still two other ESG standards to consider. The Social principles are achievable, although altering the staffing structure of a company precipitously could endanger productivity. An alternative approach is to institute training programs. Using your organization as an example, explain how technologies can assist other industries reduce emissions and wastage, and improve energy efficiencies. Or provide workshops on STEM topics in your local school, or to the community: targeting women and social groups who remain under-represented in the engineering industry. After all, knowledge in STEM and industrial automation are increasingly relevant and useful.
The final standard – Governance – can be achieved by an unerring emphasis on ethical best practices in every action, with open and transparent communication.
Ultimately and finally, curiosity and learning must be valued with a greater awareness of ESG in engineering industries. Instrumentation professionals are strongly analytical with a keen focus on measurement; they are, therefore, extraordinarily well-placed to further the essentially decent values inherent in ESG.
Howard-Grenville J 2021, “ESG Impact is Hard to Measure – But it’s Not Impossible”, Harvard Business Review.
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