Do you know the environmental impact of the sandwich you had for lunch? Food production requires about 30 percent of the world’s total energy consumption and is still highly reliant on fossil fuels. In addition, industrial energy use is responsible for over 70% of global CO2 emissions. That sandwich has a high energy tag. To make eating that sandwich more environmentally friendly and secure a more sustainable future an EU-funded project called Innoveas proposes using energy audits to improve the energy efficiency of the industrial processes involved in producing your lunch.
One of Innoveas longstanding collaborators is the French company Bonduelle, a producer of vegetable conserves, which started canning peas in 1926 and since then has expanded globally, operating now in over 100 countries. For its San Paolo plant in Italy energy efficiency was a priority since its inception in 2010, becoming a routine since their ISO 50001 certification in 2016. For this location, the company focused on developing an energy-efficient facility and implementing management and training interventions to assure that all employees were on board with the newly developed processes. Claudio Ubiali, the technical manager at the Bonduelle San Paolo plant, highlights the results and positive feedback of the staff: “Our staff has been really engaged with the topic of energy efficiency, particularly after observing the tangible results achieved over the years.” Bonduelle is a firm believer in a sustainable economy and intends to serve as an example of a firmly committed company in terms of transparency, responsibility, and environmental and social performance. They are aiming to achieve the B Corp certification by 2025. “I would recommend all other small and medium sized companies to work according to the ISO 50001, not to rush to avoid hitting a bottle-neck from time to time”, says Claudio Ubiali.
Another company aiming for sustainability is the German company Ensinger Mineral-Heilquellen, which has been selling bottled mineral water since 1952. After obtaining their first environmental certification in 1997, the company went on to implement further energy-saving measures, such as a continuous energy monitoring system. The strategies they have implemented so far have allowed not only energy and cost savings to the company but have also developed a positive image of the brand as one enforcing sustainable business practices, which is one of the company’s main foundations. Marketing Manager Stefan Schurr describes in detail the positive effects of the adjustments: “On the one hand, these interventions led to direct savings, such as the reduced consumption of water with our new bottle washer or the lower consumption of compressed air through the elimination of leaks. On the other hand, these topics can be used in corporate communications. Via classic PR or social media, we can inform consumers about our sustainable business practices and promote our company and the Ensinger brand.”
The importance of an external energy audit in the path towards sustainability was also demonstrated in Juan José Albarracín, S.A., a Spanish company specialized in the manufacturing and commercialisation of paprika, in business since 1854. “We extended our compromise with sustainability in 2018, when we carried out an external energy audit to understand where we could improve further. From that point, we started to implement the first measures”, says Cristina Vela de Oro, Quality Systems Manager at Juan José Albarracín, S.A.. “We substituted the lighting system by LED bulbs in all our facilities: factory plant, laboratories, and offices and we moved towards 100% green power. Today our power supply exclusively comes from renewable sources. Furthermore, we installed solar panels in a big part of our roofs as a first step of our solar investment project and improved the boiler system including a heat insulation work for piping and equipment. On the other hand, we optimized the main steps of our production processes to improve productivity.”
Independently of how far ahead in the implementation process, all these SMEs had to face similar issues, mainly related to lack of knowledge or resistance from the employees and management to accept the need for a change. Other concerns like the cost of the initial investments, both in terms of money, time, and human resources were considered challenging. For instance, for Mix S.A., a Polish juice manufacturer founded in 1996, energy efficiency became part of their agenda in 2020 after facing certain internal reluctance. CEO Jakub Cybura mentions: “Changing the attitude and mindset of some members of the organization required intensive work and the explanation of the key assumptions as well as substantive knowledge, resulting in a time and labour-intensive task.” Despite these issues, in all these small-medium enterprises (SMEs), implementing energy-efficient processes and transitioning into “greener” pastures had many advantages. Starting with the reduced operative costs associated with the energy-saving interventions, moving onto the industry recognition of certifications like ISO, and ending with an improved social perception from potential customers and prospective employees who might be attracted by the possibility of working with an employer with a demonstrable sustainable business ethos. “In recent years, it has also become apparent that this sustainable management is an important reason for younger people to apply for a job at the company”, says Stefan Schurr from Enginer Mineral-Heilquelle.
Based on their experience, it is essential that SMEs considering starting their own “green” revolution realise the importance of small interventions and their positive impact, both medium and long-term. In all the above cases, developing an energy efficient company was first and foremost a top-down process that required the initial involvement of the management, which further transmitted the impulse to the rest of the company, which over time got to make sustainability a concept of their own. As Jakub Cybura from Mix S.A. in Poland can confirm: “The initial work in this area is definitely a top-down initiative. Discussion, awareness-raising, and the acquisition of knowledge required to change the direction in the organization, forcing permanent changes in management are a responsibility of the managers.”
Another relevant point is not to fear recruiting external support, particularly at the initial stages. According to these companies there is no specific SME network yet focused on this topic. But Luisa Sileni from the IIPLE - the Professional Building Institute of Bologna and Innoveas project coordinator can confirm: “In the upcoming weeks the Innoveas consortium launches the “Business Alliance for Climate and Sustainable Energy”. This network of stakeholders will support European businesses in the adoption of good practices towards net zero by 2050. This alliance is one of the most important results of our 3-year project, because it is high time to offer a network and support to smaller companies.” The green transition is not a speedy or easy path, but according to these companies, the return both for the company and for society at large is well worth the effort.
Written by: Dr. Rosa Garcia-Verdugo