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ENWORKS: effective eco-efficiency advice

19/02/2013

ENWORKS, a Manchester, England based eco-efficiency advisory service for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), has been recognised by the European Commission's RegioStars Awards 2013 for the quality of its environmental support to businesses. ENWORKS “exemplifies effective public/private cooperation in the field of information sharing, and guidance in the area of SMEs transition to a low carbon economy,” according to the RegioStars jury.

ENWORKS provides its services to companies free of charge. The service is funded by the European Regional Development Fund (£5.7 million [€6.6 million] for two projects in the 2007-13 period), matched by United Kingdom public funds.

A recent specific example of ENWORKS at work was support provided to Faith Products, a Manchester hair and skincare product company. ENWORKS looked at various aspects of the company's operations. It helped Faith Products switch to 100% recycled plastic packaging, and to reduce pack sizes, thus reducing eventual packaging waste. ENWORKS also advised the company on its production processes and its energy, water and compressed air systems, resulting in a range of efficiencies and annual savings of nearly £20,000 [€23,250]. ENWORKS does not just offer one-off advice, and ongoing projects at Faith Products are expected to realise environmental efficiencies that will generate up to £37,500 [€43,500] in additional annual savings.

Samantha Nicholson, ENWORKS Programmes Director, discussed its services, and recommendations for similar initiatives in other countries.

Q: What makes ENWORKS different from other advisory services dealing with issues such as energy and resource efficiency? Why is ENWORKS particularly effective?

Samantha Nicholson: ENWORKS is a partnership, from our governance to our delivery network, we bring together the public, private and third sectors to deliver a common goal – decoupling economic growth from environmental degradation.

We recognise that looking solely at energy efficiency limits our impact – both for the companies we support and for our projects as a whole – so we offer a wide range of services including energy, material and water efficiency, covering all stages of the value chain, from product design to manufacture, distribution and use; improved waste management (e.g. diverting solid wastes from landfill through reuse or recycling); ensuring business resilience – everything from regulatory compliance to meeting supply chain requirements and mitigating risks from extreme weather events (for example, adapting to climate change). The breadth of our offer means we can deliver the maximum benefit to companies, bringing increased productivity, competitiveness and profitability.

In addition, our support is not a one-off intervention. We identify how companies can improve and then help them to implement those improvements over the short, medium and long terms. It is this ongoing support that helps us ensure companies really make a change.

Finally, our online Efficiency Toolkit software gives companies a powerful business tool that helps catalyse action and gives us the data we need to do more.

Q: Do companies seek your advice simply to save money, or is there genuinely a growing commitment to be more environmentally friendly?

Samantha Nicholson: Lord Stern, in his review in 2006 [editor's note: the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, prepared for the UK government, available at: http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/sternreview_index.htm], identified climate change as the biggest market failure the world has seen. This means that most companies, particularly SMEs, view the environment or ‘going green’ as a cost rather than an opportunity. The current economic climate exacerbates this as the main focus for most companies is survival, with internal resources being dedicated to what they see as core business activities only. The support we offer is not therefore a ‘demand-led’ service, it is supply-push, and the most effective way to engage companies is to sell the economic benefits – e.g. cost savings, sales increased, jobs safeguarded. It’s true that there is a growing level of awareness amongst companies that they should be doing something about the environment, but in general they do not have the time and expertise to take action without support from projects like ours.

Q: What is the typical profile of a company that seeks your advice?

Samantha Nicholson: ENWORKS supports businesses of all sizes and in all sectors. We tailor our services to suit the needs of individual companies, with intensive on-site support offered to those with most potential to save, alongside lighter-touch services, such as workshops, e-bulletins and online information, available to all. We constantly look at the return on investment we deliver to the public purse and this helps us target our services most effectively. It’s about what a company can do with our support, not what type of company that determines who we work with.

Q: Do you keep in touch with the companies that you advise, so you can see that their behaviour really does change over the long term?

Samantha Nicholson: A key part of what we do is to provide ongoing support. Developing strong relationships with companies, that often last for years, enables us to create real change. Many projects simply visit a company once, identify what improvements can be made, write a report and leave. In our experience, these reports sit on a shelf gathering dust without additional assistance being provided to pick up those opportunities and turn them into action. Because we do this, we can track with great accuracy what changes are made and what benefits – both economic and environmental – these changes bring.

Q: Energy efficiency and the benefits of energy savings are well understood, but are companies equally aware of the need to increase their resource efficiency, to save water and to minimise waste?

Samantha Nicholson: We look for opportunities to increase the efficiency of all resource use. This is the most cost effective way to deliver support to businesses and makes most sense to the companies themselves. Quite often, one change can save energy, materials and water, but if you look just for energy savings you’ll miss some significant opportunities that could really benefit the business.

Q: Is it possible for you to be all things to all people? In other words, how can ENWORKS provide advice to a wide range of sectors with a wide range of different needs, especially specialist sectors?

Samantha Nicholson: Many issues are common across companies no matter what sector they operate in and, at the most basic level, all businesses use energy, water and materials in their operations. We structure our projects to ensure we have both advisors with broad skills and services that will apply to the majority of companies as well as the ability to draw in specialist technical skills and services that can be tailored to match business need.

Q: What advice would you give to anyone trying to establish a similar service in another EU country?

Samantha Nicholson: There’s a few key pieces of advice we’d share: provide advice across a range of resources and issues, this makes it easier to engage with companies and is more cost effective. Provide ongoing assistance not just a one-off service; and provide more than just information – simple awareness-raising doesn’t lead to action. Make the important measurable, not the measurable important. Tailor your support to each company, this delivers the most benefit to the business and the best return on investment for the project.

All elements of our support, including information, practical tools and guidance is available to download free of charge from our ENWORKS In-a-Box website (www.enworksinabox.com).

Q: What cases are you most proud of – the greatest savings or changes to operations? What are the main barriers to energy/resource/water efficiency changes in your view?

Samantha Nicholson: We strive to demonstrate that good business is green business and that everyone can benefit by doing their bit. Our case studies tell this story really well (www.enworks.com/casestudies) plus, our numbers are pretty impressive:

We’ve advised more than 12,400 businesses on all types of environmental issue and done intensive work on resource efficiency with over 5,200 of these, identifying more than 31,900 improvement actions and providing ongoing support with their implementation. The results of this are business cost savings of almost £150 million [€175 million], over half of which required no capital investment, just changes to their way of doing business. We’ve also helped companies to safeguard or create more than 8,100 jobs, to win or retain sales contracts worth more than £345 million [€400 million], to invest £30 million [€35 million] in low carbon goods and services, and to save over 685,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent, 21.5million tonnes of material, 7.8 million cubic metres of water and to divert 458,000 tonnes of waste from landfill.

We’re really proud of the fact that we make a difference, both to individuals and the companies in which they work. Despite this, we recognise the scale of the challenge we face, and the multiple market failures that need to be overcome, in the global drive to make the transition to a low carbon economy.