Resource efficient production due to organizational measures – an opportunity for SME


Significant cost savings remain untapped in industrial firms: According to the survey “Modernization of Production“ of the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI the firms of the manufacturing industry could by their own assessment save on average 14 per cent of their energy demand and 6 per cent of their material consumption in production if they made optimum use of all technological possibilities. When exploiting these efficiency potentials and anchoring energy and resource efficiency in the long term technological solutions and management instruments play an important role. Due to their comparatively low costs non-technological measures are a low-threshold but effective entry into resource efficient production particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises (SME).

Resource efficient production, i.e. reduced energy and material consumption for the same output of production, is a decisive competitive driver. Resource saving production means cost savings for the firm. Moreover, for many consumers the ecological sustainability of products is becoming increasingly important when making a purchasing decision. When exploiting saving potentials the focus is mainly on technological solutions, organizational framework conditions and measures on the other hand are not considered in many firms – even though especially those non-technical measures require low investments and are therefore a cost effective, yet efficient entry into resource efficient production. 

For the study “Ressourceneffiziente Produktion jenseits technischer Lösungen“ the Fraunhofer ISI analyzed the data provided by 1,594 companies of the manufacturing industry who participated in 2012 in the survey “Modernization of Production“ which is regularly carried out. The analyses showed that almost 40 per cent of firms use energy efficiency measures and 73 per cent material efficiency measures in their production.

When questioned on additional saving opportunities firms estimate that they could save on average 14 per cent of their energy consumption if they made optimal use of the technological opportunities which are available today. Regarding use of materials they assume a savings potential of about 6 per cent when implementing appropriate measures.

When assessing their savings potential, the results show that firms of different sizes differ significantly: Almost a quarter of small firms with fewer than 50 employees claim not to have any more savings potential in energy consumption while this figure amounts to 11 per cent for companies with a larger number of employees (up to 249 employees) and 7 per cent (250 employees and more) respectively. Also when asked about their material savings the share of medium-sized and large firms who still see savings potentials in their production is well above that of small firms. 

Katharina Mattes, lead author of the study, emphasizes, “The results indicate deficits when assessing existing resource savings potentials: The fact that smaller firms see few or no savings potentials does not mean that they generally produce more resource efficiently than medium-sized or large firms and have already tapped all potentials. Rather, they make less use of the necessary instruments with which they can identify and fully assess existing savings potentials“. 

For firms to realize their savings potentials and systematically implement efficiency measures in production they need the right organizational framework conditions: management instruments such as total-cost-of-ownership approaches (TCO), quality management concepts as well as energy management and environmental indicator systems improve knowledge of the own processes, systematically reveal savings potentials and are therefore a good decision-making basis for using resource efficiency measures in production.

Katharina Mattes gives an example, “The use of a certified energy management system according to ISO standard 50001 facilitates the identification of energy savings potentials and therefore also the dissemination of energy efficiency measures. Our results show that three quarters of companies which use such energy management systems make use of technological energy efficiency measures in their production. In comparison, only one third of companies without such energy management systems apply technological energy efficiency measures to the production process“.

In order to identify energy savings potentials with little effort and implement energy efficiency measures accordingly it is for example possible to take part in Learning Energy Efficiency Networks. In such networks 10 to 15 companies exchange information about their potentials, learn from each other and thus increase their energy efficiency twice as fast as the industry average. Fraunhofer ISI supports these networks in the project “LEEN100plus“ with networks for larger firms with more than 500,000 euros energy costs per year (LEEN-Klassik) and for smaller firms with up to 500,000 euros energy costs per year (Mari:e/LEEN-Kompakt). The reports compiled in these networks also conform to the standard ISO 50001 and, for instance, can be used for applications for tax capping.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI analyzes the origins and impacts of innovations. We research the short- and long-term developments of innovation processes and the impacts of new technologies and services on society. On this basis, we are able to provide our clients from industry, politics and science with recommendations for action and perspectives for key decisions. Our expertise is founded on our scientific competence as well as an interdisciplinary and systemic research approach.