Energy Management Champions

June 16, 2009
How many companies have made energy efficiency and sustainability a part of their overall performance strategy?

If you read the media and marketing campaigns pushed by some of the world's largest manufacturers, it seems they're all "going green." That's the catch phrase companies use to say they've improved their manufacturing processes and products to become more environmentally friendly. But how many of these companies have made energy efficiency and sustainability a part of their overall performance strategy?

Business research firm Aberdeen Group surveyed 230 executives to find out how "best-in-class" manufacturers manage energy in their plants. Best-in-class performers were identified as companies that averaged 90% overall equipment effectiveness and 15% reduced energy consumption and outperformed corporate operating margin goals by 14%.

These top-performing companies differentiate themselves from average energy-management programs and laggards by understanding which energy data to collect, where to find it, how frequently they should gather it and how to effectively use the information, according to the report authored by Aberdeen analysts Mehul Shah and Matthew Littlefield.

The survey results show that best-in-class companies are more than two times as likely to consider energy management as one of their top three strategic focuses and are twice as likely to establish a companywide energy-awareness culture.

The most successful programs are driven by corporate teams that know how to implement the strategies developed in board rooms efficiently on the plant floor, according to the report. They also invest in technology that helps them drill down into energy data for such information as usage per production line, plant or product produced.

The technology tools manufacturers are using to mine energy data include statistical process control software, analytics, dashboards and alert management. Statistical process control programs enable companies to monitor data in real time along with control limits. Some best-in-class manufacturers are integrating statistical process control software with alert management systems to signal when processes are beyond the control limits, Aberdeen reports.

But as the Aberdeen report notes, technology alone doesn't translate into energy savings. For instance, US$22 billion Swiss-based cement manufacturer Holcim Inc. reduced energy costs at its U.S. plants by transitioning from an approach driven by capital investment to creating a companywide culture of sustainability, according to Aberdeen.

The company established an energy-efficiency program that starts with a one-week assessment by a team of 15 employees from different parts of the plant, Aberdeen reports. The assessments focus on culture, technical aspects and cost structure. The team measures the cultural component by interviewing employees at various levels to gain visibility into their understanding of energy management.

In one year, Holcim saved $5 million at its U.S. plants through an employee-driven program. "The interesting aspect is that this savings has been realized without any capital investments across these plants," says Solomon Baumgartner, manager of energy and strategy support at Holcim, in the Aberdeen report.

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