Processing and packaging businesses: Efficiency strategies for big energy consumers

Words by Zembl

In the fast-paced world of manufacturing and packaging, energy is a lifeline. It powers the machines, keeps factory floors lit through day shifts & night shifts and ultimately, keeps production pumping.

With higher-than-average energy consumption, as the global call for sustainability grows louder, it’s not surprising that the processing and packaging sector finds itself at a crossroads of productivity and environmental responsibility.

The universal appeal of energy efficiency

In a 2023 study commissioned by Zembl of both small and large commercial businesses, it was found that if there’s one area businesses in Australia are universally open to and willing to embrace, it’s energy efficiency1; ie finding ways to reduce energy consumption without compromising production or quality.

The study also found that, lower down the to-dos, especially for the smaller business battlers, are sustainability practices and ‘green energy plans’ which have gained a reputation (right or wrong) for being more expensive and costly to implement (and potentially taxing on the all-important bottom line).

With the world watching Australia’s carbon footprint as intently as our market trends, energy efficiency is no longer just a buzzword — it's a business imperative. Furthermore, what’s in it for business goes beyond simply ‘doing their bit’ for the environment. By embracing energy efficiency as a strategy, the benefits are threefold:

  • Reduced costs – lower utility bills and less waste favour profitability which is appealing to every business.
  • Positive brand sentiment – energy-efficiency gives businesses something positive to talk about in their messages to market, and studies have shown that consumers today are more likely to purchase from brands that employ sustainable practices.
  • Emerging regulation compliance – governments are evolving their sustainability legislation constantly, and staying on the front foot means businesses can avoid fines and penalties, not to mention business disruption if they’re forced to cease operations for non-compliance they didn’t see coming.

The challenge for processing & packaging businesses

While the concept of energy efficiency is relatively simple (find ways to use less), for businesses whose driving force of revenue is machine power, the ‘how’ of energy efficiency is a bit more difficult. Finding significant efficiencies is more complex than simply switching off the lights – what’s needed is a holistic approach to minimising energy usage across the entire operation, and that starts with knowing the full lay of the land in terms of where the business uses its energy.

Step 1: Assess your energy footprint

This involves a detailed assessment of all energy usage within your operation. Processing & packaging businesses typically use energy from a variety of sources in multiple ways. These could include:

  • Electricity: This includes all equipment powered by electricity from conveyors to coolers and all your ‘plugged in’ machinery.
  • Thermal energy: Depending on the business, thermal energy may be used to process materials, using heat and cooling to transform metal, plastic, rubber, cement, glass or biomass into a wide variety of industrial & consumer products.
  • Standby power: This is about identifying areas where equipment is left on when not in use.

An energy audit, whether conducted in-house or by a professional will provide a clear picture of the business’s energy habits. The business can then use this as a benchmark from which to measure future energy efficiencies.

Step 2: Create strategies for reducing energy usage

The tactics a processing & packaging business can employ to increase energy efficiency can range from simple operational adjustments to large-scale equipment upgrades. Here are three key centres of opportunity for a holistic energy efficiency strategy that could add up to significant reductions in energy consumption.

  1. Upgrade outdated machinery
    The biggest excessive energy culprit in a packaging and processing business can often be outdated machinery. Today’s equipment is designed with energy-efficiency as an objective, so swapping out the old with the new can offer immediate and significant reductions in energy consumption.

    Tip. Assess each machine individually

    Not all machines are created equal and different parts of a plant may have been updated at different stages in the business’s development. Assessing each machine will pinpoint the energy consumption of each device and where the most significant savings are to be made.
  1. Energy-efficient tech
    Over recent years significant advancements have been made into energy efficient technology that processing & packaging businesses can take advantage of to embrace the innovative energy efficiency opportunities of today.

    One example is smart sensors that allow businesses to automate power ups and power downs so that energy’s never being wasted when it’s not being used. This can apply to everything from lighting to conveyer belts.

    Another is regenerative drives where the mechanics of a machine actually generate energy as they’re being used, which can then be used to power other parts of the processing & packaging business’s operations.

  1. Energy-saving practices
    Operational practices also play a crucial role in energy reduction strategies, and they’re often more about discipline and routine than monetary investment. It’s about building a culture of energy efficiency in your staff and being sure to provide the environment where their efforts are supported, and results celebrated. Measures can include:

  • Employee education – training staff to recognise and reduce energy waste. Find out more in our blog about how to educate your staff to be energy efficient.
  • Machine maintenance – ensuring machines are maintained regularly to keep them operating at peak efficiency.
  • Monitoring & reporting – knowing where efficiencies are being gained and sharing the results can be motivating for staff to continue to take their energy saving efforts from strength to strength, rather than just seeing it as a short-term trend that will soon be last year’s news.

Renewables: the future of energy efficiency

Despite the reputation green energy has gained of being ‘more expensive’ it’s important to remember that the end game for renewable energy is a much more cost-effective and reliable source of energy powering our future – and that short term price increases and volatility of the last years have largely been due to pressures on supply and demand as we transition to renewable energy being in more plentiful supply.

Already, to move towards self-sufficiency and reduce reliance on the grid, some processing and packaging businesses are turning to renewable sources like solar and wind. While these can require significant upfront investment, the long-term benefits are substantial, including:

  • Less dependence on the Grid: This offers more pricing stability and a passport off the rollercoaster of pricing volatility that can impact the business bottom line
  • Green energy credentials: Switching to renewables provides a big tick on a business’s journey to being recognised as an environmentally conscious enterprise.
  • Even financial incentives: Governments are mandated by global bodies such as the UN Climate Coalition and as such are offering subsidies and tax breaks to companies that invest in renewables to help achieve environmental targets.

The rewards of energy efficiency

In summary, whilst gaining energy-efficiencies may not be simple for packaging and processing businesses, the rewards are not just feel-good for the environment; they’re an opportunity to save energy, grow reputation, gain customers, avoid business disruption and be on the front foot of the opportunities of the future.

Use less energy – then pay less with Zembl

Zembl is an Australian energy comparison service that has saved businesses a total of $12.23M* off their energy bills in 2023 alone, so why not make us part of your energy efficiency strategy? While you work on energy efficiency, we can help you get the most competitive rates – which together could add up to even greater savings on your business bottom line.

By filling out our contact form and uploading your bill, our team will get in touch with you and present the most competitive options available.

1. Insight drawn from an August – September 2023 Study of Australian Businesses, “Connected Ecosystem”, by Fiftyfive5, Part of Accenture Song.

*Based on businesses that used Zembl’s business energy review service from 1 January 2023 – 31 December 2023 with an average lead load of 28MWh per annum.

Find your savings with a FREE Energy Review
Save time and attach a bill
Upload failed. Max size for files is 10 MB.

By providing your details you confirm you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy.

Thank you!
Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.