April Energy Management Maintenance

On The Road To Sustainability: SKF’s LEED Edge

EP Editorial Staff | April 24, 2013


Long regarded as one of the most sustainability-conscious companies in the world, the respected bearing maker now includes this green building standard in its expansion plans. 

By Rick Carter, Executive Editor

There are many paths to sustainability, most of which fall into two main categories. Recycling/reuse is the first and maybe the most-used because it is easy to implement and offers a good visible example of sustainability in action. The second category—reconfiguring equipment, processes and facility systems for greater efficiency—tackles sustainability from the key perspective of energy-use reduction. There’s also a third category, but one that has so far played only a minor role in manufacturing: LEED certification.

Short for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design,” LEED is a set of globally recognized design standards that can help ensure new and retrofitted buildings use less energy, occupy a smaller carbon footprint and provide a safer, healthier working environment. To take advantage of this path, manufacturers must be building new facilities or significantly retrofitting existing ones. They must also be committed to budgeting more for specific green-design aspects—only some of which offer monetary payback. Global manufacturer SKF, known for its bearings and related industry-leading technologies, is in this position today, and has made LEED a key part of its expansion plans.

LEED is a voluntary, consensus-based, market–driven program that provides third-party verification of green buildings, according to the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), where LEED originated in 1998. LEED has become perhaps the best-known and respected among several global standards with similar goals. A key word in the LEED definition is “design.” This certification isn’t awarded for random green actions, but for carefully designed plans that integrate the USGBC’s pre-determined, environmental and sustainable features. The more of them that a building incorporates, the higher its LEED rating. Some 52,000 LEED certifications exist globally across LEED’s four point-based rankings: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum. Certifications are awarded to all structure types, including factories, homes and schools, and mostly for new, but also retrofit-ted construction.

Importantly, LEED is not about a structure’s purpose. Therefore, manufacturing processes, however sustainable or efficient, cannot be LEED-certified. So why does SKF—a company that has long operated sustainably and with high regard for environmental concerns—find it worthwhile to pursue LEED certification for its newest factories? It has everything to do with SKF Group CEO Tom Johnstone.

“He [Johnstone] is a firm believer in the principles of doing sustainable business and driving the whole organization to understand these issues and improve our customers’ performance and our performance,” explains Rob Jenkinson, Director of Corporate Sustainability. “He is very much behind this, and he looks at everything: Any process we run he asks how we can ensure the best environmental performance and the best health and safety performance.” Making the point through example, SKF USA, Inc., recently sought the highest possible LEED level (Platinum) for its new headquarters building in Lansdale, PA. Opened in 2010, the three-floor, 117,000-sq.-ft. office building near Philadelphia features a geothermal heating/cooling system, solar panels, water reclamation and practically every other LEED component possible—including a nicely framed Platinum certificate.

Linking LEED and manufacturing
Manufacturing facilities present more environmental challenges than office buildings, but that has not kept SKF’s sustainability team from working Johnstone’s directives into SKF’s guiding principles. Initiatives include SKF’s BeyondZero program (see sidebar, page 27) along with its Sustainable Factory Rating (SFR) system, which incorporates company-specific, LEED-like guidelines for SKF manufacturing operations along with the actual USGBC LEED guidelines for building construction. In a typical SKF bearing-manufacturing facility, the LEED guidelines impact energy use through specifications for HVAC and lighting, which account for about 35% of plant energy use. SFR guidelines cover the remaining 65% of a plant’s energy bill, and focus on process energy demands and other environmental and human issues. The combined SFR/LEED requirements are mandated for all new SKF construction, greenfield or brown, and all are subject to certification: LEED by a third party (the Green Building Certification Institute) and SFR by internal SKF auditors.

SKF sites support other standards, too, including ISO 50001, ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001, which could lead one to wonder if this array of building and operational requirements in any way hampers new-project development. With some 18 new facilities constructed or under construction worldwide since 2010, when SKF formally adopted LEED, that’s clearly not the case.

According to Jenkinson, SKF’s approach to building new facilities can be boiled down to two basic questions it asks of itself. “The first is, how can we build facilities anywhere in the world in a way that ensures the construction process is well-managed so people are safe and treated with respect? This approach might be a given in the U.S. or Europe,” he says, “but SKF is increasing its presence across the world. And even if the regulations in China or India, for example, are similar to those in Europe, enforcement isn’t the same. So we take this upon ourselves. The  second question is about environmental performance. We ask, how can we ensure that our facilities have a minimal impact on the local environment using the best available technology?”

Though Jenkinson admits that it’s always challenging to set up where you haven’t been before, he points out that SKF has not yet had to compromise its main environmental goals anywhere. The company’s recently opened bearing plant in Tver, Russia, for example, one of its three current new LEED-certified plants (with another 15 under construction or on the way to certification), presented challenges because SKF was a newcomer to the country. Not having operated in Russia since the early 20th century, it did what it has become used to doing in China and India—familiarize itself with local regulations, suppliers and the workforce. A consultant was hired to assist with Tver’s LEED design and to train the project manager and other plant personnel in LEED requirements. “But once the factory starts to run, the local staff has to set up the environmental system and the controls around them,” says Jenkinson, who adds that he was highly impressed with how smoothly the process went.

The resulting 104,000-sq.-ft. Tver operation, on line since 2010, makes bearings for the Russian rail industry, which is enjoying new investment due to official efforts that promote rail use. The facility’s Gold-level LEED status is based partly on energy-saving features that have allowed its heating and cooling systems to operate on 40% less energy than the SKF factory baseline.

The main LEED features at Tver include. . . 

  • High-efficiency HVAC equipment with heating/cooling recovery
  • High-efficiency window glass
  • High-efficiency light fittings, including LED
  • Plant location that takes advantage of local weather patterns and exposure to natural light
  • Increased insulation on walls and roof
  • Segregation of waste and recycling during plant construction
  • Construction material with high recycled content, especially steel and insulation
  • Focus on use of regional construction material
  • Minimum 50% use of wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council as coming from environmentally sound harvesting practices
  • Low-VOC internal materials, including, paints, coatings, sealants and adhesives
  • Segregation of waste and recycling in all plant operations

The number of LEED points applied for in a given design is up to the user. Choices are based on need, budget and what can be physically accomplished at the site. LEED guidelines are also regularly reviewed to keep them relevant with regard to real-world factors such as weather, lot size, water supply, access to mass transit and more.

While startup projects like the Tver plant can typically incorporate a high number of LEED features, rehabbed facilities can achieve high-level LEED certification using different USGBC systems. For example, part of SKF’s Platinum-level Lansdale headquarters includes a rehabbed former manufacturing building. And the company’s new Cleveland-area Solution Factory, which opened last summer, is a complete retrofit—and a very successful one.


Opened in August 2012, SKF’s newest Solution Factory in Cleveland, OH, is in line to receive Silver LEED status for its use of water reclamation, energy-efficient HVAC and lighting systems, plant-wide recycling and other LEED factors. This rehabbed 1970s facility combines two former SKF operations (spindle remanufacturing and custom seal machining).

“This building (the Cleveland-area facility) dates from the ’70s,” says Jon Stevens, Vice President, SKF Solution Factory, North America, and in charge of implementing these specialized operations. “It was a former medical-device manufacturing site that had been empty for at least five years.”

Despite its lack of green components, the Cleveland facitliy attracted SKF because its location would enable the company to combine two existing local SKF facilities (a spindle remanufacturing operation and a custom seal machining facility) into one without losing employees. “And it had great bones,” says Stevens, “which made it easy for us to implement the design we needed. We wanted a very flexible facility from a manufacturing standpoint, and we knew we could implement environmentally sustainable design and construction here.”

Stevens says flexibility is key to the Solution Factory concept because these operations are designed to create custom solutions quickly and efficiently for local customers. The Cleveland-area operation, located in the suburb of Highland Heights, is the most recent to open (August 2012) and at 71,000 sq. ft., is the largest among 20 others that operate in North America and globally. It is also the only Solution Factory to apply for LEED (Silver) certification. Major LEED-related upgrades to the Cleveland site include a complete roof replacement with added R-25 insulation and additional insulation on the inside of all exterior walls. The previously exposed cinder-block walls were studded out to receive R-14 insulation. 

Other upgrades include. . . 

  • A 2500-gal. collection tank that harvests rainwater for use in the site’s toilets
  • High-efficiency, LEED-certified HVAC system
  • Energy-efficient T5 lights in 38,000 sq. ft. of shop space
  • Highest possible content of recycled materials in carpet, ceiling tiles and doors and office furniture
  • Low VOC paint throughout
  • A plant-wide recycling program for paper, cardboard, light bulbs, batteries, computers and printers, plastic and aluminum
  • LEED-certified variable drive air compressor
  • Occupancy sensors on offices and conference rooms
  • All Energy-Star appliances and computer equipment

“We copied the Lansdale model with pride,” recalls Stevens. As a result, the challenges they faced had more to do with deciding what they could implement for Silver certification on a very tight schedule. “We wanted to be up and running in less than five months from when we signed the lease,” he says. “It’s not easy to find LEED-qualified components like HVAC units on short notice like that, but we did. We also had to quickly learn the availability for locally sourced materials like studs and drywall.” 

Still, the brownfield location did affect SKF’s chances to incorporate several other LEED goals. “Certain points weren’t available because our location is not as well covered by those associated with sustainable communities, like mass transit or local residential,” notes Stevens. Also, solar power was not deemed a practical choice for the location, nor was geothermal heating/cooling due to the site’s relatively small acreage. “Geothermal is one of the distinctions that gets you from Silver into Gold or Platinum,” he says, “so we had to go in other directions like rainwater reclamation.” They did receive points for reclamation of an existing facility and for making the best parking spaces for carpoolers and those who use low- or no-emission vehicles. “But the most convenient space is for those who ride bicycles,” he adds,
“so we put showers in the facility, too. You can’t just have a bike rack to get the points, you have to provide employees the ability to get cleaned up.” 

While Stevens awaits word regarding final approval of the Cleveland Solution Factory’s submission for Silver LEED certification, he’s also focused on the next one—a greenfield design to be located in Birmingham, AL, that will also apply for LEED certification. For that site and the Solution Factories that follow, he has a sustainability wish list that includes zero-waste operation. He says this is worth pursuing despite the difficulty it presents for bearing and seal-making operations like SKF’s that must integrate different types of materials in the process. 

“We may never reach zero waste,” Stevens says, “but we can think about what waste we create and why we create it. If we can stop making it—because waste in any form is bad—that makes us more efficient.” Describing a complex procedure the company might use to separate waste from recyclable mater-ial in its fast-moving processes, he notes pursuit of such a solution is emblematic of the holistic approach SKF takes in solving all sustainability challenges it faces. “LEED, SFR and BeyondZero aren’t things we just do randomly,” he explains. “They define how we think about the problem. This is how we run.” MT

‘BeyondZero’ Extends SKF Energy Expertise To Customers

0413otrtslogoInspired by the purpose of its main product, the bearing, to “reduce friction,” SKF has long sought to similarly reduce energy in its operations. Doing so placed it ahead of the energy-saving curve in the 1900s when the company formed. Many still regard SKF a leader in this area thanks to many well-defined efforts, including its BeyondZero program. 

Introduced in 2005 and expanded last year to include a full portfolio of specific product and service solutions, BeyondZero broadens the company’s own energy and environmental management efforts to include ways in which SKF can help its customers reduce energy and environmental impact. BeyondZero program goals are:

1. To reduce the negative environmental impact deriving from SKF operations.

2. To increase the positive environmental impact of SKF solutions by offering new technologies, products and services with enhanced environmental perfor-mance characteristics. 

Between 2006 and 2011, SKF reduced the total energy requirements of its manufacturing operations by 10% as its business grew by 25%. In the same period, the company cut its greenhouse gas emissions, largely CO2, by 25%. To help enable those type of gains for its OEM and end-use customers, SKF focuses BeyondZero on the following five areas:

  • Bearings
  • Seals
  • Lubrication systems
  • Mechatronics 
  • Services, including 3D computer modeling, advanced condition monitoring, reliability and asset management 

The BeyondZero portfolio offers solutions ranging from low-friction bearings and seals to electro-mechanical actuators and all SKF products and solutions for renewable energy. Examples include:

  • SKF Rotor Positioning Bearings, a key element in the stop-start engine system of micro hybrid cars. In the micro hybrid design, a gas engine stops when car movement stops, and restarts when the gas pedal is pressed. It does not include an electric motor, but does feature regenerative braking, and is estimated capable of improving fuel economy by 20%. 
  • SKF Energy and Sustainability Management services, which can help organizations reduce energy consumption through an extensive, plant-wide assessment that identifies high-energy-use areas within an operation. 
  • SKF ConRo, a fully-sealed roll-line unit for continuous casting operations in the steel industry. It reduces CO2 emissions by an estimated average of 1.5 tons per roll per year. In a continuous casting machine with 400 rolls, this means an annual CO2 reduction of approximately 600 tons.

Learn more at www.beyondzero.com.




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