3 minutes read   20 Nov 2021

An essential climate weapon: The ‘Zero Carbon Operator’

By Iain Ormrod

There’s no doubt that the climate crisis has taken centre stage lately, and if the recent COP26 summit in Glasgow has taught us anything, it’s that the time to take action is now.

For organisations in the aggregates and quarrying sector, it could be easy to underestimate the positive impact that we can make. After all, as tier-three suppliers in the supply chain (i.e. not the builder, nor the supplier of materials, but the sub-contractor that moves the materials), we may not be at the forefront, but we can certainly play an integral role in reducing carbon - as we’re an energy-intensive part of the process.

The question is, beyond planting trees and committing to continual fleet renewal, what can businesses such as ours do to reduce their carbon footprint? Well, it’s really quite simple. They can empower their employees to become ‘zero carbon operators’.

Decarbonisation has been a key objective at CPI for some time now, but it was in late 2019 that we started to hone our focus on driver behaviour - using telemetry within our assets to help identify where inefficiencies and wastage were being made, and inform us as to how we could educate our operators to become zero carbon operators.

As our understanding grew, we started to undertake benchmarking exercises to help drive further efficiencies. One exercise in particular, which studied twenty drivers on behalf of a customer, highlighted an astonishing 10 per cent variance between most and least fuel-efficient operators. This helped us to discover that many of those employees were using the brake instead of the retarder on their asset. In making this discovery and educating the operators on best-practice, we were able to deliver a nine per cent saving on fuel, roughly 100,000 litres per annum

Incremental changes to driver behaviour such as these can make a big difference over time, and for the most part, it’s a case of educating employees to be more carbon efficient, rather than completely retraining them. The vast majority of operators are extremely capable and know how to drive their machinery safely, they just need to be made aware of the optimum conditions required to drive it efficiently too.

For organisations operating within the sector, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Machinery has evolved considerably in recent years, and with in-built technology now working to ensure that assets operate efficiently, it’s crucial to educate employees – particularly the older, slightly more traditional ones. This ensures that they’re fully in-tune with these modern methods of working.

Of course, when empowering employees to be ‘zero carbon operators’, it’s important to understand what motivates them and how you can frame any improvements as a positive thing, rather than a critical one. While we employ professional drivers to operate machines and can advise them on optimum conditions, they are ultimately the interface between our guidance and the machine – so they need to feel both engaged with and supported if they’re to actively change their behaviour.

As a result, we’re seeing some great success stories around our sites. For example, one operator ran at about 15-20 per cent less fuel burn than expected on a Komatsu PC700 consistently. Meanwhile another trained operator upgraded his machine from a 50 tonne to 70 tonne asset, managing to maintain the same level of fuel burn, while increasing production by 30%.

As we wait for technology and skills to advance enough to assist us fully in our aims, our commitment to continual improvement – whether that be in offering operator efficiency training as standard, undertaking regular benchmarking exercises or furthering our FOIL initiative (which seeks out efficiencies across Fuel, Operators, Idling and Loading) – is just one of the many things we can do now to move the company closer to Net Zero.

Ultimately though, an organisation can’t take the path towards decarbonisation without the support and understanding of its operators. They have to be taken along for the journey – and put firmly in the driving seat too.

By Iain Ormrod

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