It's a System

The Palm Bay (Fla.) Utilities Department uses an ISO standard as a framework for continuous improvements that cut costs and lessen environmental impact.
It's a System
The Environmental Management System specifies consistent processes for all manner of tasks. Jeremy Gordon, water/sewer line technician, flushes a hydrant.

The Palm Bay (Fla.) Utilities Department is advancing sustainability through management processes — it is the first utility in Florida to achieve the ISO 14001:2004 Environmental Management System (EMS) Standard certification for its entire organization.

The department follows a continuous improvement management framework and strongly supports the education of future water professionals to address workforce sustainability and enhance water quality management. Through its formal commitment to continuous improvement, Palm Bay has kept costs under control and stabilized utility rates over recent years.

Starts at the top

Palm Bay, on the Atlantic coast south of Cape Canaveral, has a forward-thinking utility department. Incorporated in 1960, the city is Brevard County’s largest (population 107,000). The water system, serving some 32,000 accounts, includes 41 wells, two water treatment plants (combined capacity 14 mgd), a 100-million-gallon aquifer storage and recovery facility, a 1.5-million-gallon storage and re-pump station, and more than 600 miles of distribution lines.

Palm Bay’s directive for excellence came straight from the top. In 2007, Lee Feldman, then city manager (now serving Fort Lauderdale in that capacity) charged each department with finding a functional certification or accreditation program. The utilities department set a goal in its strategic plan to become world-class. “We chose the ISO 14001:2004 Standard, which requires an objective measurement of continuous improvement to show improved performance,” says Dan Roberts, utilities director.

The globally recognized standard specifies requirements for an EMS that enable an organization to implement policy, objectives, targets and programs to mitigate or enhance the environmental side of its operations. This framework allowed management and staff to work together toward their stated mission: “Provide superior drinking water and advanced treatment and disposal of wastewater through an effective utilities system reflecting responsible environmental stewardship, while striving for 100 percent customer satisfaction.”

Achieving ISO standards

Through efficient management and green initiatives, the Utilities Department makes operational decisions with an eye on the triple bottom line: environment, economy and social equity. In 2007, the department began the rigorous 18-month process — including training, research, education, supervision and a structured rollout — to achieve the ISO standard.

Processes, measurements and documentation are significant. In an EMS, a Plan-Do-Check-Act model is integral to the objectives, targets and programs. It allows the department to make adjustments or take corrective actions when necessary because all work is documented and verified. The EMS program is also tied to the Six Sigma DMAIC method (define, measure, analyze, improve and control), which the department uses to identify process improvements and eliminate defects.

The department attained ISO 14001:2004 certification in 2008 and is still the only water and wastewater department in the state that has it. Certification must be renewed every three years through internal and third-party audits; Palm Bay renewed successfully in 2011.

Measuring success

The department monitors progress from innovation in terms of dollars saved, revenue gained and costs avoided. Most important are new ideas, which come from the workforce. Each employee has a goal of offering two process improvements per year, submitted on a standardized form through supervisors.

They commonly use a 5S+S quality methodology in their daily tasks to organize their workspaces for effectiveness, efficiency and safety. Their improvement suggestions can range from reorganizing truck beds, to developing tools that increase efficiency, to suggesting process improvements that improve daily workflow or enhance safety. “We leverage the intellect of our workforce,” says Roberts. “This is the primary way to collect new ideas and safety improvements.”

Since 2010, employees have identified 193 process improvements, saving a total of more than $200,000 and helping to improve the utility’s bond rating from Moody’s from A2 to Aa3 despite a downturn in the economy. In 2013, eight employees were recognized for providing five or more continuous improvements.

Of the process improvements, 25 percent are safety-related. Other categories of benefits include: increased revenue, improved morale, improved safety/health, cost savings, product improvement, pollution prevention, efficiency/productivity, cost avoidance, customer service/satisfaction and waste reduction. A few examples:

  • Operators had to walk on a large pipe several times daily to collect samples. Instead of building a catwalk over the pipe, maintenance installed a pump that deposits in a sink 100 feet away. The sample is taken faster, more easily and safely at a cost of $1,100 and a cost avoidance of more than $23,000.
  • Customer service improvements included ergonomic modifications to the lobby area. To reduce communications difficulties, the customer side of the countertop was cut back 12 inches, bringing the customer closer to the service representative. Plexiglas dividers were installed to reduce sound between windows.
  • Customer service personnel use a mapping application created by the Enterprise Geographic Information System (EGIS) team. It provides real-time information to customers about service availability and the specific cost for parcels to connect to the water and sewer systems.
  • Automated and brighter lighting in pump rooms and at the South Regional Administration office led to 40 percent energy savings.

Community improvements

Sustainability extends into the community. The Utilities Department sponsors the Academy of Environmental Water Technology (AEWT) program at a local high school, targeting students who may want to become water professionals. This summer, the department will have spots for five paid interns focused on water treatment and distribution and effective utility management.

“It’s a state-approved curriculum, and several other school districts have expressed interest in bringing a program like AEWT to their community,” says Julie Lemons, the department’s outreach coordinator. “Our program is hands-on, and students have the opportunity to see and learn as much as possible. It’s great preparation for careers in water fields.”

The department also sponsors WaterWise, a water conservation program that educates fifth-graders through carefully designed lesson plans and classroom activities. Students receive a WaterWise Resource Kit with retrofit tools such as low-flow showerheads and kitchen sink aerators, along with tools for monitoring water usage. They then install those items at home and share what they learn with their families.

Leading sustainability

For the future, Palm Bay will follow a plan described in the Water Environment Federation’s Energy Road Map that includes the use of biofuels and solar energy to drive down energy costs and increase efficiencies. “All our success is predicated on training — lots of training,” says Roberts. “It’s a change in mindset for all employees to become more aware of our operation’s impact on the environment and workplace safety.”

Lemons adds that training applies not only to the Utilities Department team but also to customers: “When people understand why we do things, they become more invested in the utility. Everyone is a stakeholder, and that allows us to lead in sustainability.”

Department staff members also present to other water industry stakeholders through workshops and conferences, sharing successes that have come through continuous improvement. Most recently, the department was recognized for effective management with a 2013 American Metropolitan Water Agencies Platinum Award for utility excellence.

In addition, in 2012 the department was one of just four utilities highlighted as case studies in the U.S. EPA’s Resource Guide to Effective Utility Management and Lean.

By achieving and maintaining the ISO 14001:2004 Standard, Palm Bay set standards of excellence with forward-thinking management systems. Says Roberts, “Our continuous improvement commitment, standardized by certification to the ISO EMS Standard, enables us to take on a leadership role in sustainability, not only for the utility but for the community.”


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