Share, improve, save and inspire – Go LEEN!

Living a ‘lean’ lifestyle is the latest fashion for many. This way of living is all about being healthy and active: drinking green smoothies for breakfast, eating like our hunter-gatherer ancestors by following the paleo diet and bending our bodies in a hot yoga class. Why? By looking after our bodies, we get the most out of it, making ourselves function more efficient – metabolically and intellectually.

The same applies to the business world. The concept of ‘lean’ was introduced to management, manufacturing and even services processes a long time ago. In this context, ‘lean’ simply means creating more value with fewer resources by optimizing the purpose, people and processes of an organisation.

Some businesses in Germany have decided to go LEEN. LEEN stands for Learning Energy Efficiency Network and comprises of a collective of 10 to 15 companies within a region. The aim of such a network is to share knowledge and best practice in energy efficiency measures, to save money and reduce CO2 emissions. LEEN in this regard is lean: optimizing purpose, people and processes. Thereby many different efficiency investments and practices are being made available to all network’s participants. This may result in a faster and more cost-effective energy reduction.

The first LEENs were established in the mid-80s in Switzerland and the idea made its way to Germany in 2002. From 2009 to 2013 the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMU) of Germany funded the project called ’30 Pilot Networks’. The research was conducted by Fraunhofer ISI and has now been evaluated. The results are worth a close look:

To qualify for the project, the operational energy costs of a business had to exceed €500,000/year. Over the project lifespan, all 360 participating businesses were able to reduce their energy demand by an average of 10%, twice as much as the non-network industry average. A stunning 5,650 measures were economically evaluated; more than 50% were financially viable. The average internal rate of return of the viable measures was 12%, yielding a payback time of just over three years. On average, realizing all viable measures in a participating company amounts to a total investment just over €500,000, saving an average of 2,780 MWh/year, worth 180,000€.

To improve the energy efficiency, companies are often faced with considerable research and decision-making costs. This applies to individual energy efficiency solutions for production processes of innovative businesses in particular. This is where LEENs take action, cooperatively.

A LEEN project process involves 3 phases distributed over 3-4 years. An initiator, i.e. a regional chamber of commerce, starts the process by recruiting companies to join the network. This is followed by the consultancy phase, where an energy advisor takes an energy inventory to assess the saving potentials, manages expectations and the areas of interest within the network. The network phase consists of quarterly meetings at the individual companies and detailed annual reporting. The monitoring follows the DIN EN ISO 50001, Energy Management Systems regulations. The aim of this standard is to support businesses in establishing systems and processes necessary to improve their energy performance.

At the end of the project life span, companies decide on any continuation of the network. Due to the compelling results in energy and financial savings, many of the participating businesses of ’30 Pilot Networks’ have decided to keep up the network.

A special feature of the regularly held network meetings, called energy efficiency roundtables, is the professionally chaired knowledge and skills exchange. This distinguishes LEENs from other energy efficiency networks, such as the SME Network run by the Carbon Trust. The roundtables take place in rotation at every participating business, and also include a tour of the organization to get an idea of the individual energy efficiency questions and solutions.

The network is a learning network, one business’ success or failure can be informative and inspirational for another.

Whereas LEENs are designed for larger companies with high energy costs, the idea behind it is also attractive for small and medium sized (SME) businesses that often lack the resources and skills to carry out comprehensive energy efficiency inventories and to implement appropriate measures. In 2013, a German pilot project for SMEs started. It is called Mari:e-Networks which stands for ‘mach’s richtig: energieeffizient’, or ‘do it right: energy efficient.

Whether a multinational, a small SME or a network run by a county or local authority, the LEEN idea shows that together is better. By sharing ideas and knowledge in a more structured and effective way, businesses are able to make significant energy savings whilst at the same time reducing their carbon footprint.

Find out more about LEEN:

Heinke Thies is a PhD researcher in the Exeter Energy Policy Group 

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