Lean and Clean: How One Company Makes Factories Greener and More Competitive

One company has figured out how to make energy more competitive, and more sustainable.

In the United States, the bulk of our electricity still comes from burning stuff, which means that electricity production is the source of some 80 percent of all carbon emissions. Drill deeper, and you’ll learn that industrial production consumes about 30 percent of that electricity.

At a time when the United States is desperate to increase its manufacturing and create new jobs, it can be hard to reconcile the needs to increase industry and engender sustainability. After all, a key advantage held by factories in emerging economies, besides lower labor costs, is that they spend far less time and money worrying about emissions and other environmental challenges.

To compete sustainably, developed states need to innovate. And that’s where GOOD Company finalist Powerit Solutions comes in: They’ve created a product that gives energy-intensive businesses like foundries, food processors, and manufacturers of all kinds the ability to manage electricity through the smart grid to cut costs and become more efficient—all while laying the groundwork for the transition to clean energy.

“We’re using cloud-based technology … but implementing it typically in industrial cultures that are throwbacks to almost a different era,” says Bob Zak, the company’s North American president. “We have credibility with the facilities manager and the foundry guy. Being able to bridge two cultures, the high tech culture and the ‘get your hands dirty, let’s go make some steel’ culture, is really unique.”

The company sells a hardware product developed in Sweden called SparaSwedish for “conserve”—that is chock full of smart chips that interface between the power companies and the various machines demanding electricity to do their work. At the heart of the system are the ideas of dynamic pricing and demand management.

Power companies charge many consumers a flat rate for electricity, but the price of power fluctuates day-to-day, minute-by-minute, even second-by-second. Utilities build a price buffer into their flat rate to make up for the volatility, but the new trend in the industry is dynamic pricing—charging customers based on the precise cost of the electricity they are buying, which increases at peak demand periods.

“If an end user can understand at any time that real-time price of electricity, [they can ask themselves] ‘do I buy at that price or do I try to change my behavior?’” Powerit Solutions CEO Kevin Klustner says. Spara helps companies do just that by managing power demand within the business, timing the activity of machines to ensure that demand stays below-peak and that electricity is bought at the lowest prices possible.

This process makes energy usage much more efficient, which Powerit executives say generally pays for the product in two years. But the technology doesn’t just produce savings for Powerit’s clients; it's also paving the way for cleaner energy infrastructure.

Managing power demand means less pressure on electrical utilities at peak hours, which is when they have to rely most on fossil fuel to produce energy. Cleaner technologies like solar, wind, and thermal power provide energy intermittently, which means they are harder to integrate into a grid where energy needs are constantly spiking. A smart grid, which communicates more effectively between energy users and producers, will allow for better natural resource management.

“The more predictability that we get on the demand side, the more we’re able to consume a larger percentage of clean energy as the total percentage of energy we consume,” Klustner says.

And in a rare synergy, sustainability goes hand-in-hand with global competition.

“When you’ve got foundries that are competing with international companies for their survival, and we can have a pretty good impact on their number two cost of doing business, that’s a pretty great feeling at the end of the day,” Zak says.

Powerit’s next steps are scaling up the analytics and data collection aspects of their business to give their customers more tools to optimize their electric performance. They also see opportunities to expand from their Swedish business unit throughout Europe, where comparably high energy prices make their product even more important.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user aprillynn77

via Chela Horsdal / Twitter

Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" debuted the first episode of its final season last week.

The show is loosely based on an alternative history novel by Philip K. Dick that postulates what would happen if Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan controlled the United States after being victorious in World War II.

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via Mike Mozart / Flickr

Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

RELATED: The 1975's singer bravely kissed a man at a Dubai concert to protest anti-LGBT oppression

In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

RELATED: Alan Turing will appear on the 50-pound note nearly 70 years after being persecuted for his sexuality

Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?


Oh, irony. You are having quite a day.

The Italian region of Veneto, which includes the city of Venice, is currently experiencing historic flooding. Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has stated that the flooding is a direct result of climate change, with the tide measuring the highest level in 50 years. The city (which is actually a collection of 100 islands in a lagoon—hence its famous canal streets), is no stranger to regular flooding, but is currently on the brink of declaring a state of emergency as waters refuse to recede.

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The Planet
via Gage Skidmore / Flickr and nrkbeta / flickr

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) dropped a bombshell on Tuesday, announcing it had over 900 emails that White House aide Stephen Miller sent to former Breitbart writer and editor Katie McHugh.

According to the SPLC, in the emails, Miller aggressively "promoted white nationalist literature, pushed racist immigration stories and obsessed over the loss of Confederate symbols after Dylann Roof's murderous rampage."

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via Twitter / Bye,Bye Harley Davidson

The NRA likes to diminish the role that guns play in fatal shootings by saying, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people."

Which is the same logic as, "Hammers don't build roofs, people build roofs." No duh. But it'd be nearly impossible to build a roof without a hammer.

So, shouldn't the people who manufacture guns share some responsibility when they are used for the purpose they're made: killing people? Especially when the manufacturers market the weapon for that exact purpose?

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