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PIUS: Supporting SMEs into Cleaner Productions. Part I


Dr. Peter Jahns, Managing Director of the EFA (Efficiency Agency of the German State North Rhine-Westphalia), presents the PIUS initiative, a successful programme stimulating Small and Medium Enterprises to progress in the field of cleaner production processes.

  • Can you explain the PIUS initiative in a few words?

PIUS is the German abbreviation for production integrated environmental protection, known in English as Cleaner Production. In contrast to end-of-pipe techniques, with Cleaner Production, preventative measures are implemented in order to realise clean, resource-efficient and, with this, environmentally-friendly production. This plays a major role in securing the futures of both enterprises and society as a whole.

  • Who are the participants in PIUS? Who was present at the beginning of the project?

 While many large companies have been making extensive efforts to increase their resource efficiency, most small and medium sized enterprises do not have the necessary capacity at their disposal to do this. In order to achieve raw material efficiency, the regional government in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) provides targeted support for these companies. This is why the Effizienz-Agentur NRW (EFA) was founded in 1998 as part of an initiative from the NRW Environmental Ministry. 

“The perception of environmental protection as an obstacle is removed as companies quickly realise the associated benefits”

The objective of the EFA is to support SMEs on the road to Cleaner Production.

With its comprehensive know-how, the EFA has become the main point of contact for small and medium sized manufacturing enterprises. As an independent institution, EFA brings the concept of resource efficiency to the companies via new strategies and innovative technology.

To appeal as fully as possible to the companies we want to reach, EFA is organised as a form of public-private partnership; we approach companies as a private-sector enterprise, while at the same time acting as a neutral, non-commercial partner. Our aim, moreover, is to carry out all our activities together with other partners from the business world, such as Chambers of Commerce and Industry, trade associations and academia, groups with which the EFA has achieved great esteem as the trade partner for PIUS.

  • In the light of your experience, what makes this initiative a success?

The Cleaner Production initiative has been successful because entrepreneurial ambition has been awakened. When an enterprise recognises that through environmentally-friendly production methods they can reduce their costs and, by doing this, improve their operating results, then the perception of environmental protection as an obstacle is removed as companies quickly realise the associated benefits.

  • Can you give a few examples of concrete actions? What are your “best success stories”?

The biggest success story is the EFA’s PIUS-Check. Via a material flow analysis of its production processes, a company is shown two to three concrete possibilities of how to improve their resource efficiency within just nine days. The example of the electroplating enterprise C+C Cours GmbH illustrates this success. Since the launch of the PIUS-Check, around 380 projects have been started or have already been completed. The potential of all the projects speaks for itself: annual savings of more than 1.7m cubic metres of water and 15,000 tonnes of waste are possible, amounting to a savings potential of €12m. An additional success story is the resource cost accounting where the cost factor in production processes is precisely pinpointed and, from this, improvement measures are taken.

I would like to mention two examples from North Rhine-Westphalia in which we were able to achieve concrete successes using the PIUS Check.

In one case, after the PIUS Check, a manufacturer of high-grade upholstered furniture converted the spraying technology in its varnishing operation to HVLP (High Volume Low Pressure) sprayers, and installed a cross flow heat exchanger for heat recovery. For a total investment of €50,000, the company now saves €35,000 each year while reducing its annual consumption of varnish and solvent by one ton each.

“success is there in more than 95% of the cases”

Following its PIUS Check, a contract manufacturer of body-care products, cosmetics and cleaning agents invested €800,000 in a new, optimised tank farm. The new tanks, with improved surface finishing, can now be cleaned using only minimal amounts of water and chemicals. The tanks and pipelines now retain much lower levels of product residues, too, meaning that the water used to clean the pipelines and tanks can be used several times over. The result: water consumption and sewage runoff have been reduced dramatically, while product loss has been cut by 30,000 kg each year. The savings realized total €250,000 per year.

  • How much time does it take to get a PIUS-Check?

The total time taken from the initial meeting to the planning of measures is between six to nine months. But the PIUS-Check itself takes only 9 days of specialised consultant - so it is very “human resource efficient” too. EFA takes up to 70% of the consulting fee, plans and directs the project, and supports the company in the implementation.

  • What is the role of the PIUS-INFO.DE internet portal/information pool?

The German internet portal summarises all the experiences and service offers regarding Cleaner Production and serves as a comprehensive information platform for institutions and companies. The initial contact with companies mostly occurs at events and also through acquisitions obtained by consultants that work with the EFA. The decisive factor is always the personal contact.

  • Is it sometimes difficult to convince SMEs to get involved in such work? How do you overcome this kind of hurdle?

We respond to the specific problems a company may have. If we can demonstrate the possibilities of the PIUS potential and awaken their entrepreneurial ambition, then the company is usually on board. Additionally, numerous references from successful projects help to convince the company. When success is there, as in more than 95% of the cases, then the company is eager to show us what is possible in their business.

“In the end, our goal is to implement resource efficiency considerations in all company strategies".

  • What are the future challenges you are working on?

In the future, we aim to simplify the implementation of innovative technology with new funding concepts such as the contracting option in process water treatment. Other approaches can be found in the area of maintenance in order to improve the resource efficiency within companies. With our Cleaner Production service range, besides the production aspect, we also cover the usage and disposal of products and focus on the resource efficiency factor. In the end, our goal is to implement resource efficiency considerations in all company strategies.