Sustainability has become a mantra for the 21st century. It embodies the promise of societal and business evolution towards a more equitable and wealthy world in which the natural environment and our cultural and corporate achievements are aligned. Within a business context, sustainability can accordingly be defined as meeting the needs of a firm’s direct and indirect stakeholders, without compromising its ability to meet the needs of future stakeholders as well. Putting sustainability at the forefront of business has for many companies (The John Lewis Group, The Cooperative, Marks & Spencer) created a positive brand association and increased consumer interest, equating to financial buoyancy. Put simply, sustainability is good for business.
It’s also good for the planet. Global issues surrounding energy security, unstable fuel prices and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as sustainable procurement, the purchase of raw materials from sustainable sources, ethical trade and corporate social responsibility (CSR), has led to organisations increasingly making the commitment to move towards a more sustainable, low carbon, energy efficient model.
Across Europe, governments are focused on carbon reduction. For example, France is planning to reduce its CO2 emissions by 75 percent, as laid out in the Energy Act 2005, and Germany has set a reduction target of 40 percent by 2020 with the Emissions Ordinum (emissions trading scheme) coming into force in 2012. The latest Cancun Climate Change Summit also resulted in global agreement that requires deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, the new ISO 26000 standard comes at a time when businesses are being judged on anything from their e-waste disposal and safety standards to their carbon emissions.
In organizations worldwide the two disciplines, energy and sustainability, are gradually becoming combined in order to enable an organization to maintain and grow their economic, social and environmental capital base while actively contributing to sustainability in the political domain.
At present, several employees may be engaged with aspects of energy and sustainability across a global company; this is often not their main focus, and sustainability and energy monitoring can become an “add-on” to a much broader role. Thus, the focus is diluted. With the appointment of an Energy and Sustainability Manager, a coordinated, strategic approach is provided, led by a single individual who draws together all aspects of sustainability, energy management, social and ethical due diligence – a complex, technically challenging and constantly changing market due to legislation and technology – and creates a green strategy for the whole company.
If energy and sustainability are managed in a strategic manner by one individual who delegates out responsibilities, then an organization is more easily able to present a clear and transparent sustainable strategy for the company as a whole.
The term sustainability strategies was integrated into the management lexicon in 1992 and has since involved the development of competitive advantages that allow firms to capitalise on environmental and energy efficiency opportunities and to minimize environmental threats. A company’s choices on issues such as environmental management will not only help define its corporate reputation, but also dictate its level of risk exposure, set the standard for competition, influence investor relations and directly impact its bottom line.
Since the greening of the business environment is a critical dimension that will provide significant opportunities and threats well into the future, it stands to reason that strategic managers would increasingly seek to implement sustainability strategies in the decades to come, and the most effective method of achieving this is to take Energy and Sustainability into the boardroom.
Sustainability measures a company’s ability to achieve its business goals and increase long-term shareholder value by integrating economic, environmental, and social growth opportunities into the company’s strategies.
The evidence of growing interest in sustainability is impressive. A survey of 1,000 CEOs from 43 countries by PricewaterhouseCoopers indicated that 79% of these CEOs believe that sustainability is vital to the profitability of any company. The reason for increased interest is clear. Sustainable practices are profitable because they can reduce risk, make business more efficient and more attractive to consumers, and advance them technologically while reducing environmental and social impact.
Why, then, do so many companies fail to put sufficient sustainable energy management policies in place?
Here are some questions any company looking to manage their energy and sustainability needs to answer:
- How much energy does the business currently use?
- How can you improve your energy efficiency?
- What impact would saving energy have on your business from a financial perspective?
- How do you source your materials?
- Are you using sustainable products and processes?
- What is your impact on the local and global community?
Those businesses that are unable to answer all of these questions have really only scratched the surface of effective sustainable energy management. Addressing these questions is the role of the Energy and Sustainability Manager and the first step into producing a robust framework for making significant and continued strategic improvements.
The UK is signed up to EU targets of 20% of energy from renewables and 10% of transport fuels from biofuels by 2020. Response to these challenges can be seen in EU legislation with the 2007 EU energy policy regarded as a first step towards a low-energy economy by improving security of supply, competitiveness and increasing sustainability. “Meeting the Energy Challenge – A White Paper on Energy” (2007) by the then Department of Trade and Industry (now the Department of Energy and Climate Change), reiterates the UK’s stance that its cornerstones are to save energy, develop cleaner energy supplies and secure reliable energy supplies at prices set in competitive markets which are regulated independently. It is the role of the Energy and Sustainability Manager that could implement this strategically within an organization, thus helping to create large cost reductions as well as ensuring the organization complies with the most up to date regulations.
Sustainable energy management is the process of monitoring, controlling and conserving energy in a building or organization.
Typically this involves:
- Metering energy consumption and collecting the data.
- Finding opportunities to save energy, and estimating how much energy each opportunity could save.
- Taking action to target the opportunities to save energy
The roles of the Energy and Sustainability Manager would therefore work to change the way organizations think and act, for example, by adding energy efficiency and conservation into the formula of considerations for new construction and operations and maintenance. The Energy and Sustainability Manager could also advocate for the owners and operators of facilities to think more sustainably.
Having a process-driven energy and sustainability strategy in place provides an organization with competitive advantages of cost leadership and market differentiation through improved environmental and energy efficiency.
Victoria Kenrick is a specialist at Allen & York, a leading international Sustainability Recruitment consultancy, offering jobs in Environment, CSR & Sustainability, Renewable Energy and Carbon Management, plus Health and Safety Management. To explore the latest career opportunities and Allen & York’s services to employers, please visit the website at: http://www.allen-york.com.