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Exclusive interview with Bonnie Schwartz, Vice President of Environmental Health and Safety at $6B Energy giant Calpine. Bonnie shares her insights into successfully building a foundation of operational excellence with principles that begin with safety.

OPEX Toronto - Feature Calpine

Bonnie Schwartz currently serves as the Vice President of Environmental Health and Safety at Calpine – a $6B Fortune 500 company with over 2,200 employees and America’s largest generator of electricity from natural gas and geothermal resources. Having attended the Air Force Academy and graduating with a degree in Political Science and International Relations, Bonnie spent over seven years in the Air Force as a Titan Two ICBM Nuclear Launch Officer. Following this, Bonnie pursued an Electrical Engineering degree at Wichita State University along with a Master’s degree in Political Science. Bonnie then moved onto Koch Industries and spent over 25 years working within operations, plant management, EH&S and commercial compliance for the second largest privately held company in the US. After building a successful career at Koch, Bonnie retired and used the time to teach business administration which led to Bonnie’s recent appointment as VP of EH&S at Calpine Corporation.

Year after year organizations see increasing mandates for compliance and reducing risk yet are being pressed to drive more efficiency in their operations. However, efforts to reduce risk are often seen as diametrically opposed to efforts to achieve production targets and improve production efficiency.

Bonnie Schwartz, Vice President of Environmental Health and Safety at $6B Energy giant Calpine, believes that if you use the principles of safety to lay a foundation for Operational Excellence – you can achieve operational efficiency whilst simultaneously mitigating operational risk at world class levels.

Ahead of the 2018 Operational Excellence in Energy & Utilities Summit (November 26-28, Toronto), our colleagues at IQPC caught up with Bonnie who shared how she has done just that at companies like Georgia Pacific, Koch Industries and now Calpine.

What do you see as the connection between environmental health and safety and operational excellence?

Operational Excellence is essentially operating with the discipline to achieve results needed by the company for shareholders as well as the community and the environment. Environmental Health and Safety are two of the key drivers of Operational Excellence and the connection lies in the fact that you cannot begin to address other key drivers of operational excellence without having first addressed EH&S. When we are operating, we are dealing with risk and therefore we

need to identify our risk to ensure it’s mitigated. One of the ways to impact the people, the environment, the equipment, and the end performance of the business, is to understand and identify our key risks in safety and environment.

In what ways can businesses build a strong foundation of EH&S excellence?

Building a strong foundation of EH&S excellence begins with the tone set by the CEO and runs throughout the organization. Employees will naturally act on what they view as the expectations set by the leadership, and EH&S excellence needs to be a shared value of the company rather than simply a priority; it should be viewed as the first step for a company. It’s a license to operate which begins with leadership.

The next step is ensuring that each employee understands their role in achieving EH&S excellence alongside the incentives which need to be aligned to ensure that employees strive for EH&S excellence. Once this is in place, a culture of searching, identifying, prioritizing risk and mitigating it needs to be implemented along with the right tools and knowledge to adequately assess and manage risk. This is followed by change management which takes into account the changes undergone in everyday situations and conditions. It’s necessary that we constantly reassess these situations for different risks as this will provide new opportunities to manage the risk.

Next, it’s important that companies train and educate employees to ensure that they are aware of what risk looks like and finally we need to assess the success rate of identifying and managing risk whilst supporting employees who are doing this effectively.

This is essentially a decision making process and the mental model for this is driven by the idea that the best decisions produce the best results. To ensure that the best decisions are made, we need to find the right people for the right roles. Having the necessary knowledge will lead to the best processes. From there, we can essentially build in feedback loops to continually plan, check and adjust. This is a continual process and it’s important to build a culture which enables this plan of continuous improvement.

Download the full interview here >>

Over 150 Operations, Operational Excellence, EH&S, Asset Management and Reliability leaders are gathering in Toronto this November 26-28 at the 2018 Operational Excellence in Energy & Utilities Summit to learn the latest strategies for managing change, increasing efficiency and optimizing productivity – without compromising reliability, safety, and compliance. The world-class speaker line-up includes industry experts from Veolia, Enbridge, Suncor, HydroOne, SaskPower, Irving Oil, Ontario Power Generation, Toronto Hydro and many more –  all presenting at the event and there to answer your most pressing questions.

Download the 2018 agenda to see the full program >>

Energy Now subscribers are entitled to receive a 15% discount* on their conference pass. Simply quote discount code ENERGYNOW15 when registering here >>

For more information on the summit or for sponsorship opportunities, please contact the event director Leslie Allen at +1 705 707 1301 or

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