“You really make connection with the organisation”

Interview with Pieter Minnee, Platform Entrepreneurial Meierijstad (POM), the “Trusted Partner” in the Netherlands

August 27, 2021

Pieter Minnee is a Trainee for Sustainability for SMEs at Platform Entrepreneurial Meierijstad (POM). He holds a Bachelor in “Business Administration” and Master degrees in “Supply Chain Management” from the University of Newcastle (UK) and in “Technology and Operations Management” from the University of Groningen (Netherlands). The Platform Entrepreneurial Meierijstad is the Trusted Partner as well as the GEAR@SME Use Case in the Netherlands. It is an entrepreneurial organisation with 900 SMEs. The GEAR@SME partner CCS is supporting POM in reaching SMEs to inform and motivating them to improve their energy efficiency by sharing knowledge and experience with POM so it can perform energy scans and give SMEs the tools to create energy efficiency reports.

You have already done many energy scans at SMEs during the GEAR@SME project. What is happening in such a scan?

Pieter Minnee: “It has been 25 energy scans now. The goal is to get more than 60 scans in the end. Above all, we try to find individual solutions for each entrepreneur. They want to have sustainability, but do not know how. Therefore, when I do an energy scan I visit them at their company. The entrepreneurs often have a lot of questions, so our first priority is to answer their questions and to give them some kinds of measurements.”

How do I have to imagine this as an entrepreneur?

“First, we have a nice coffee and a chat in the local office and work with a checklist. It is important to build up a relation with the entrepreneur and to find out what are their ambitions for the company. This is a kind of open conversation to get to know how much they already know about sustainability, how big the company and what their purpose is. Here the checklist provided by the GEAR@SME project is a very big support for me.”

What is happening after the coffee chat?

“We benchmark what kind of company they are. Are they using electricity and gas? How much energy per square meter do they use? If you have a high-energy use, what are the explanation for that? We check the isolation, if they have an air conditioning, where the pipeline are going to, the pumps, and the type of glass at the windows. These are the standard things. I walk through all the rooms, I also check the surfaces, make pictures of the pumps and machines and note the year of the electric engines.”

Who is the person of the SME you are doing the energy scan with you?

“In small ones, it is usually the owner himself, because he knows best of the equipment.”

In how far does the GEAR@SME methodology help you? What are the advantages in your eyes?

“The GEAR@SME methodology helped me with the training how to do the energy scan. It supplied me with the whole background. When I have technical questions, for example about swimming pools or sun boils Dennis from the GEAR@SME partner CCS supports me. They give me information’s or mediate persons I can speak with. This is very helpful, because I do not know all the technological stuff yet.”

What kind of GEAR@SME-tools are you using?

“We use the checklist, benchmarks, the network, the website, standard formats, parameters, pictures, personal texts and reports. We also use the energy training part of the methodology.”

Were the SME-cases all very similar or rather different?

“They were really different. They cover very different sectors like manufactures, hotels, bathrooms, camping’s, offices, services and even stables for the recreation for horses. The horse stables in fact waste a lot of energy due to flickering lights. A lot of volunteering people come in and go out. In addition, they use to heat by 25 degrees though the building is badly isolated. At camping places, for example the problems are rather the showers who are on very long. Often the most important thing is to replace the lighting. This they use for other investments in the stable or the SME. In manufacturing we check for example if they have LED lighting, a motion scanner and how energy is used in toilets, small rooms and corridors.”

How do you convince SMEs to do the energy saving investments?

“The big one to bring them to become more sustainable is saving money. If an SME consumes less lighting energy it can save energy around 600-700 euros per year. However, I always try to find the solution that is most appropriate for the organisation.”

What kind of action did SMEs already do after your energy scan?

“Most of them changed the lights to LED, but also replaced the boilers. Some also want to do the isolation first, but I say to them that they first should do the little things. You cannot give the entrepreneurs the biggest investments first. The small investments should be done first and bigger ones later. If owners can experience ‘quick wins’ on the energy bill, they are likely to invest more time and resources into bigger investments like Photovoltaic panels or heat pumps. Providing these SMEs with a roadmap saves time and helps them with compliance to national energy efficiency laws. Therefore, if they see the results of the small investments very quick, then they can do the bigger one due to intrinsic motivation. Here I can support them with information about EU-subsidies such as the Interreg Program.”

What is the biggest sticking point for SMEs when it comes to saving energy?

“Money! Especially in this times in hotels and restaurants due to corona. But there are other organisations who do not care about the money and just want to do something for the climate.”

Why is not every SMEs in Europe climate neutral yet?

“The main reason is the cheap price for energy. The cheap price of energy means that there is less incentive to save money. Another reason is the missing technical knowledge. This depends lot on the field of work. SMEs know a lot about the things of their business, but not about heat pumps. Now climate change is getting real and people realise things. A third reason is that small entrepreneurs just have a miss of time.”

What are your biggest learnings during your 25 energy scans?

“The most important is not to let the entrepreneur feel like it is a test. It is very important to get to know the entrepreneur first – far more important than any energy scan. You should not think about the report, but you should really make connection with the organisation and get to know the person in front of you. This can achieve a lot more. It is a kind of social work, but I like this part, because in the end you know you could help the organisation to sustain the future. In the future we would like to proceed with the methodology from GEAR@SME by creating a tight focus group of entrepreneurs focusing on common goals like circularity and energy exchange opportunities.”