Lebanon, a diverse nation in the Middle East has, due to its geographic location, often been affected by conflicts, both from within the country as well as those in the neighboring region. Since the Syrian war erupted in 2011, 1.5 million Syrians have taken refuge in Lebanon. The economic and social impact of this crisis continues to strain public finances, the environment and the economic potential of the country. Lebanon's industrial sector faces a drop in export opportunities, and an increased pressure on infrastructure.
Nowadays, production costs are getting distressingly higher. There are several issues that are putting the ability of Lebanese businesses to produce and export at risk, such as power supply interruptions, a rising dependency on expensive and carbon-intensive fossil fuels for energy, water distribution problems, and rising transportation costs.
To boost the country’s industrial sector, the way businesses deal with waste, energy and water needs to change fundamentally, especially in the food industry. Therefore, they require tools and investments that will help them to become more resource and energy-efficient, non-polluting and safe, while maintaining their competitiveness.
At the beginning of the project in Lebanon, the MED TEST II team encouraged companies to install measuring devices to collect data on their consumption. Through the identified saving opportunities, the eight participating companies were able to reduce their annual water consumption by 53,412m³ and energy consumption by 14.3 GWh per year.
Turning challenges into opportunities is at the core of Transfer of Environmentally Sound Technologies (TEST) methodology applied by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). TEST supports industries with a toolset to address rising energy and raw material costs by integrating saving measures into ongoing business operations. It was introduced in Lebanon in the context of the MED TEST II project, an innovative part of the SwitchMed programme, which was launched in 2013 by the European Union to speed up the shift to sustainable consumption and production patterns in the Southern Mediterranean.
Nada Sabra is an environmental expert who has been working with UNIDO to develop Lebanon's industrial sector for 14 years. She explains that the project addresses the challenges and obstacles the sector is facing in order to become more resource and energy-efficient, while increasing production. “Within the MED TEST II project, we say that 'you cannot manage what you cannot measure', and this has often changed the mind-sets of businesses' management on how to approach topics related to raw material, waste, energy and water consumption.”
These businesses can now identify the cost of their losses during production and take the right countermeasures to prevent these inefficiencies.
However, convincing small and medium enterprises to adopt more resource efficient production practices can sometimes be challenging. One of the main barriers is the perception that improving their resource efficiency will incur additional costs.
But, as Sabra explains, “resource efficient production means competitiveness. For businesses, competitiveness is a key aspect to invest in resource-efficient technologies….In Lebanon, 60% of the identified investment measures in the MED TEST II project had a payback period of less than six months, a circumstance that highlights that sometimes simple actions can take small businesses a long way. Eventually, resource-efficient production leads to lower operation costs, which again will allow the company to make new investments into the business, to upgrade technologies, expand production and create new jobs.”
Sabra argues that “switching to more resource-efficient operations is the beginning of a virtuous circle for the business”.
One example of the successful application of the MED TEST II approach in Lebanon is provided by the HMBR Manufacturing and Trading company, which has two separate factories located in the area of Choueifat. One produces different types of potato chips while the other produces numerous types of bread, baked goods, ice cream and chocolate. Thanks to the MED TEST II project, the business managed to identify saving opportunities worth €1,211,561 a year.
Marwan El Koussa, Chairman of the Board of Directors, said, “Thanks to the MED TEST II project, we can say that there has been a quantum leap in awareness among the staff concerning resource use and efficiency. The information system, installed at the start of the project, played a major role in this transformation because it has translated vague concepts and statements into real world numbers.”
Another example is the Dirani Group, a producer of various food products, which had expanded over the recent years and was already looking for improvements that could save energy. Thanks to the project, the Dirani Group made improvements in their production line and reduced the energy bill by 13%, saving the company more than €65,000 in energy costs.
Ahmad Dirani, General Manager, said, “Thanks to the project, we achieved energy-efficiency improvements in two years that otherwise would have taken us a decade to accomplish without this support.”