Q&A with Jennifer Drumm

Engineering advisor, ADM Research 
Chairman, ADM Water Resource Management work group

How did you come to oversee the company’s overall water-resource management efforts?
Working as a process engineer for our bioproducts division, where we produce amino acids like lysine and threonine as well as lactic acid, I spent a lot of time examining water streams that came in and out of the facility and trying to determine how we could reuse water both to be more environmentally sound and to help manage costs.  At ADM, we use and reuse things constantly.  Just about everything that comes from our plants — from sunflower hulls to carbon dioxide — is something we try to find a market for, or further refine and then sell. So that’s how I became more deeply involved with our overall water-resource management effort.

Based on the work I did in bioproducts, I was sought out by the ADM Sustainability Steering Committee to participate in the Water Resource Management work group, which is bringing a focus on conservation to facilities throughout the company. 

The company operates processing facilities in dozens of countries.  How did you begin to get your arms around the challenge of determining where to focus our water-management efforts?

We began in 2009 by commissioning a global water assessment that looked at the ADM processing facilities that are our heaviest water users. Then, using data from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, we determined that about 75 percent of these facilities are located in regions where local water resources are not stressed, while just 7 percent are located in areas of considerable scarcity.

Overall, the findings were positive. But after evaluating projections of where water supplies are expected to be stressed around the globe by 2025, we recognized that over time, we may find ourselves with a greater number of facilities in areas that are at least moderately water-stressed.

So what is ADM doing to prepare for that possibility?

We know that about 120 of our facilities use up to 99 percent of the water we consume as a company.  So in July 2010, we started collecting data from these plants and developed a standardized data-entry system designed to enable our plant environmental managers to record this information thoroughly and accurately.  And we established Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs, to help identify trends in our usage and determine where we may be able to conserve.

Our principal KPIs—total water withdrawal by source and water discharge by quality and destination—were formulated based on reviews of the Global Reporting Initiative’s environmental indicator protocols.  And these KPIs will form the basis for our metrics in the future. GRI is a multi-stakeholder organization based in the Netherlands that has developed a sustainability reporting framework.

In terms of water withdrawal, we’re looking at the volume we’re drawing from various sources.  Is it from groundwater or well water? Rainwater? Municipal supplies? Is it treated and filtered water from another site?

In terms of quality, we’re collecting data on the process water being discharged from our facilities, taking note of where it’s being discharged to, and monitoring its contents.

Finally, we look at our processing volumes to get a sense of how our discharge and withdrawal correlates with the amount of product being manufactured at each facility.

Now that you have a year’s worth of water data in hand, what will ADM do with it?

We’re in the process of validating and verifying everything that’s been collected to ensure measurements and readings were taken and recorded accurately.  From that point, we can start developing water-management plans for each facility and track and report our progress toward our goal of reducing water use 15 percent from 2010 levels, on a per-unit-of-production basis, by 2020.

How is the focus on water conservation being received by colleagues at our plants?
Our colleagues are increasingly mindful that water is a finite resource, and that we have to be highly conscientious about how we use it. 

People at ADM have really started dialing in to that kind of thinking.  And now, plant operators are acting on their own to save water, and they’re coming to me with ideas, and asking, “Where can I reuse?” and, “How can I use less?”  It’s been gratifying.

Jennifer Drumm joined ADM in 1999 when she accepted a process engineering role at a cottonseed plant in west Texas. She later moved to the company’s Valdosta, Georgia, cottonseed and soybean processing facility before transferring to the bioproducts division in Decatur, Illinois, in 2003. She holds a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Texas Tech University.


Drumm at an Illinois water treatment facility: “Plant operators are coming to me with ideas and asking, ‘Where can I reuse?’ and ‘How can I use less water?’ It’s gratifying.”

Bio: Jennifer Drumm
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