Lowering costs via enhanced resource efficiency

Enterprises that promote greater resource efficiency can lower their costs and help to protect the environment at the same time. Reffnet.ch, the Swiss Resource Efficiency Network, supports enterprises by helping them to identify areas for improvement and develop and implement measures designed to boost resource efficiency. EBP operates a web-based data-entry portal and measures the effectiveness of efficiency measures.

Consider the case of the Franke Kitchen Systems Company. With the help of Reffnet.ch, the company redesigned one of its sinks with the aim of reducing its environmental footprint by 60 billion environmental impact units (EIUs), which is equal to the combined environmental footprint of 3,000 Swiss nationals. If the company implements everything as planned, it stands to lower its costs by millions of dollars in the next five years.

A plus for the company, its customers and the environment

What’s the secret? Franke decided to manufacture its "Evolution EVX 220" sink from a single metal sheet instead of three separate parts. The new design lowers the amount of chrome-nickel steel used in the production process by around 6.5 kilograms. Given that the company manufactures around 230,000 sinks each year for the North American market, the total material savings come in at around 7,500 tons. This benefits the environment because less chrome-nickel steel is produced and there is no longer a need for energy-hungry recycling of scrap, as used to be the case with the previous process. Moreover, the redesign has allowed Franke to lower its energy consumption by a whopping 75 percent, translating directly into lower production costs. And finally, the redesign has helped Franke’s customers to lower their installation costs.

From “whispering” garbage trucks to resource-efficient vegetables

Working together with a Reffnet.ch consultant, Franke devised a plan to exploit a clear win-win situation by introducing a special “eco-design” for one of its sinks. And the case of Franke is by no means the only one in which the experts at Swiss Resource Efficiency Network were able to bring about improvements. There is also the case of Schwendimann AG’s “whispering” garbage trucks, whose electric auxiliary engines ensure quieter, low-emissions garbage collection. Saropack AG now produces more environmentally friendly PVC-free packaging materials for fruits and vegetables. And Forster AG makes use of hydroculture and waste heat to grow more resource-efficient fruits and vegetable, even in the winter. While Reffnet.ch solutions reflect great versatility, they all share the goal of improving the resource-efficiency of enterprises that often lack the know-how and human resources to develop their own solutions.

Reffnet.ch solutions protect the environment while also lowering costs.

Environmental protection that pays

The consultants at Reffnet.ch show enterprises where improvements can be made, draft corresponding measures and provide support for their implementation. As a member of Reffnet.ch, EBP assesses the effectiveness of individual measures in terms of their environmental impact, essentially providing answers to key questions such as how much material (e.g. chrome-nickel steel) is saved and what impact the savings will have on the enterprise’s environmental footprint. The focus here is on the environmental impact of the changes across the entire lifecycle of the products in question. We express this impact in terms of EIUs, a unit of measure that takes account of a full range of environmental effects, including climate change, land use and the extraction of mineral resources. One special challenge is that the measures designed to improve resource efficiency, in contrast to energy efficiency, can be very complex and may vary greatly from industry to industry. Moreover, the relevant environmental impact is often not limited to Switzerland. This is because the materials and the energy contained in our products often come from abroad while the products themselves are often exported. The challenge for us at the beginning of the project was to develop an approach that would enable us to uniformly document environmental impact for all enterprises. At the same time, it was important to ensure that the assessments were robust whilst at the same time ensuring that the information-gathering process was not too labor intensive for the enterprises.

But what does an enterprise stand to gain from implementing costly measures to protect the environment? In addition to environmental footprints, EBP also considers the cost side of all measures, including any investment costs and impacts on operational costs. Many other cases, beyond that of Franke Kitchen Systems, have also illustrated how a commitment to environmental protection within enterprises can pay off as lower operational costs ultimately outweigh the necessary investment costs.

A single data management system

During the initial phase of the Reffnet.ch project, processing states, environmental impact scores, cost calculations and many other key data were managed on numerous Excel spreadsheets. Today, all of the information is compiled and managed via a web-based, data-entry portal. Working together with Reffnet.ch experts, EBP developed and programmed the portal with an eye to the needs of its users. Today, consultants use the portal to document all of the relevant information. Comprehensive analyses of Reffnet.ch’s overall effectiveness are available at the click of the mouse, and can also be exported to Excel for the network’s annual report.

A bright future for Reffnet.ch

Whether they take the form of a newly designed sink or “whispering” garbage trucks, the smart solutions presented by Reffnet.ch enable enterprises make important contributions to environmental protection. Around 100 enterprises have implemented selected measures since the founding of Reffnet.ch in 2013. And slowly but steadily, demand is increasing. The network is now on track to reach its annual net-reduction goal of 74 billion EIUs. The project’s success and the prospects of a bright future have also convinced the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) to continue to support Reffnet.ch for another four years.

Team Reffnet.ch

The project team:

Andy Spörri is the Director of Resource Efficiency and Waste Management. He supports various decision makers when it comes to issues relating to recycling management and the efficient and sustainable use of resources. As a university lecturer at ETH Zurich, he also makes a contribution to the education of tomorrow’s problem solvers.

As an interaction designer and software developer, Sarah Schöni is well-acquainted with technical parameters and design possibilities. She develops web-based and business applications for various areas. In approaching her work, Schöni always prioritizes the perspective of the user. This allows her to create intuitive solutions that make for a pleasant user experience.

Reffnet.ch is a collaboration between several organizations:

  • Effizienzagentur Schweiz AG, University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW), Myclimate, Züst Engineering AG and an external pool of experts provide consulting services.
  • The Reffnet.ch business offices are operated by WERZ Institut für Wissen, Energie und Rohstoffe Zug.
  • The Pusch Foundation is responsible for communication services and raising awareness among business leaders.
  • EBP is responsible for assessing the effectiveness of measures and operating the web-based, data-entry portal.