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ERA's Environmental Compliance Management Blog

The Secret "E-Factor" Calculation for Environmental Performance

Posted by Alex Chamberlain

Alex Chamberlain is a writer for ERA Environmental Management Solutions.

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Have you ever wished that you could quickly measure how cost-effective and environmentally responsible 
your processes and materials really are?

The field of Green Chemistry has been improving the environmental impact of everyday manufacturing and chemical use, but it has also given us a practical metric that you can apply to your own facilit

ies. It can be used to assess your own environmental performance in a simple manner, even if you aren’t in the chemical manufacturing sector: the Environmental (E)-Factor.

But very few people know about it and even fewer are using it. Why is this the reality?

The E-Factor

If you're looking to gain an accurate snapshot of how your products of materials are performing, the e-factor is the simple straight-forward solution.

The E-Factor shows how effective your overall production capability is by comparing the amount of waste generated by your activities against the amount of desirable product that gets created.

The calculation is shockingly simple, that it's suprising that we don't hear more people talking about it.

Let's take a look at it:

E-Factor = Total waste (kg) / Total product (kg)

If you’re generating 1 kilogram of waste for every 5 kilograms of final product, your E-Factor is 1/5 or 0.2.

The lower your E-Factor, the better performing your product is.

Now, as you are probably thinking, the E-Factor by itself may seem overly simplistic: many EH&S specialists want to get more data and more specific data...

Well, the beauty of the E-Factor calculation is that it’s flexible enough to work for almost any situation.

Here are a few scenarios you can use the e-factor for:

1) Get Specific About Air, Water, Waste & More

You can always adapt the E-Factor equation to get more specific information about your processes or types of emissions. For example, if you only want to measure your efficiency in terms of air emissions (maybe you primarily deal with air permitting), just include only kilograms of air emissions in the E-Factor equation.

This also applies to specific facilities, processes, or even personnel: you can adapt the E-Factor equation to measure the efficiency of just about anything or anyone that plays a role in your business.

Try adding E-Factors to your employee performance evaluations by comparing the amount of product that gets lost as emissions, spilled, or wasted against how much ends up in the final product.

2) Evaluating Changes

Part of getting sustainable is constantly making better choices the materials you use in an effort to reduce your waste generation and environmental impact. But for every change you make, you’ll want to evaluate and measure the results so you can be sure you’ve made the right decision.

First, calculate your E-Factor for a period of time before any changes have been made. You can use your waste records and usage records from a full month before you’ve changed your materials.

Next, calculate your E-Factor for the exact same length of time after the change was made, making sure to use all the same data sources as before. If your new E-Factor is lower than before, you’ve successfully improved your overall efficiency.

Keep in mind that this simple comparison will get more complicated if you’re trying to evaluate multiple changes that occurred at once. You can drill down even more and perform multiple E-Factor calculations using different sources or adjust your time periods if you need to get more specific data.

But if you’re just looking for proof that your material change was the right move, or for a way to support your material emission forecasting, E-Factor might just be the easiest solution.

3) Amplifying Your Role in The Supply-chain

Imagine how your performance could affect others further down the supply chain. Do you think companies you supply would like to know how much waste was associated with the manufacture of your product?

Since most companies are trying to cut back on the amount of waste they generate, I bet they would.

Regardless of whether you are delivering the product direct to the customer, an OEM towards the end of the chain, or small parts manufacturer feeding the various sections of the supply chain, your environmental performance is always highly relevant.

If your component or material is widely used in someone else's manufacturing process, then your e-factor will affect theirs.

If they waste 5 kgs of your product for every 10 kgs they use, then their e-factor is 0.5.

But to get a real idea of the waste that's generated in the manufacture of their product, it's important to look at what went into their components

If you only waste 2 kgs for every 10 kgs you produce (e-factor of 0.2), as opposed to a competitor who wastes 6kgs (e-factor of 0.6), then your superior e-factor amplies the performance of those further down the supply chain.

Your combined e-factor would be 0.7, as opposed to 1.1 if they used a competitor.

That means there is only 7 kgs of waste generated for 10 kgs of material produced, which would rise to 11 kgs if they used your competitors.

This is a big difference, which won't be noticed unless you highlight it.

4) Sustainability Reporting

It seems like almost every big business is writing and releasing sustainability reports as part of their PR and EH&S efforts. Using your overall E-Factor as a part of your own sustainability report is a useful option for making a simple to understand report that the public can actually appreciate. If you publish a monthly online sustainability report, E-Factors could save you a lot of time and still give a good public impression.

If you’re writing an internally-focused or in-depth sustainability report, you might consider having both an E-Factor and a more detail-intensive approach using your emission records.

5) Sharing with Shareholders and Executives

Using E-Factors is one of the easiest ways to communicate data with key decision makers that might not have a strong background in environmental management, including shareholders and corporate executives.

E-Factors condense huge amounts of data down into one simple number, are generally more user-friendly, and memorable. They are perfect for when you need to talk about environmental performance in more general terms without getting bogged down by lists of types of air emissions or digging into years’ worth of environmental records.

When it comes to convincing your boss to invest in a new project or demonstrating what you’ve accomplished this year, simplicity trumps complexity. E-Factors can be that clear and concise form of measurement that your boss understands at a glance.

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ERA Environmental Alex

About the Author: Alex Chamberlain is a writer and blogger who regularly contributes to ERA Environmental Management Solutions' blog. You can find Alex on Google+LinkedIn & ERA's Environmental Compliance Blog

Image credit: stevenharris