In 2012, the Sitio del Niño tissue mill in El Salvador drew the attention of Kimberly-Clark Product Supply leaders from around the world.
In the preceding months, the mill had become famous for delivering a five percent reduction in energy use and $1.5 million in cost savings, all with less than a $0.5 million investment.
The team in Sitio del Niño had good reason to reduce energy use. Energy prices in El Salvador are among the highest in Kimberly-Clark, peaking at $200 per megawatt hour – nearly four times what energy commonly costs in the United States.
Juan Marin, a senior energy engineer on Kimberly-Clark's Global Sustainability Team, spent years evaluating various international standards for energy management. He was "interested and amazed" to see how the team at Sitio del Niño had borrowed best practices from across the company and drawn on the latest industry thinking to create a customized solution. They called it LEAN Energy.
"We were looking for an energy management system that could be implemented in our facilities and interface with the manufacturing world,” said Marin. He had seen other systems that failed to adapt to real world demands, but he knew that LEAN Energy was different. It was developed by manufacturing teams for manufacturing teams.
“WE WERE LOOKING FOR AN ENERGY MANAGEMENT SYSTEM THAT COULD BE IMPLEMENTED IN OUR FACILITIES AND INTERFACE WITH THE MANUFACTURING WORLD.” — Juan Marin
Building a mindset of conservation.
The team at Sitio del Niño started their search for savings by installing energy meters throughout the mill, which provided mill operators with real-time visualizations of energy consumption. Using this information, engineers were able to fine tune the mill's equipment to conserve energy.
The Sitio del Niño team also established energy performance targets. But rather than building an entirely new system, they built these goals into the mill’s existing processes. This meant that energy consumption would be monitored and measured alongside other important factors such as safety, quality, production volume and costs.
But what impressed Marin and his colleagues most was the human factor. Those who knew Sitio del Niño's operations the best, its employees, were all part of the implementation process, making valuable contributions like identifying equipment that could be powered down when not in use. This human component was part of LEAN Energy from the start, shifting not just machinery, but mindsets and behaviors.
"What LEAN Energy did was change the conversation from one of energy efficiency to a shift in mindset," said Marin. "It has to be aligned with the priorities of each facility and region."
Embracing innovation across the business
Seeking to replicate the success of Sitio del Niño, teams from the Kimberly-Clark International organization – Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific – began to deploy LEAN Energy in their respective regions with support from Kimberly-Clark’s Global Sustainability and Continuous Improvement teams.
As of the end of 2014, 23 Kimberly-Clark facilities around the globe had implemented LEAN Energy, resulting in $6.6 million in cost savings and a reduction of 35,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
In October, Marin presented LEAN Energy to delegates at the World Energy and Engineering Congress in Washington, D.C. But even as Marin and others work to convert Sitio del Niño’s efforts into standards that can be implemented anywhere, it’s apparent that deep employee engagement and shared accountability to improve the business and reduce environmental impact is the key to success.
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