Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland
Energy and CSR are Utterly Inseparable.
Two weeks in Marrakech in a few weeks’ time… this might sound like an advert for a vacation – but it is actually the 22nd UN Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC or COP 22, a year on from the Paris Accord. The agreement achieved in Paris got a mixed reception, some saying it didn’t go far enough and others pointing to the fact that it was backed by nearly 200 nations. It’s notable that the scale of international ratification already achieved for the Paris Accord took over eight years in the case of the Kyoto Protocol.
The global obligations now enshrined in the COP agreements demonstrates that the world at large is beginning to take this responsibility seriously. At a very minimum there is now a moral obligation on us, individually and as a nation, to be responsible global citizens.
This reflects an acceleration in the seriousness with which the climate change and sustainability agenda is being taken albeit delivery will not be simple. And so it is that one key question underpinning the discussions here in Ireland is can we balance the competing agendas of growth in agriculture with contraction in emissions allowances. This exemplifies the sort of challenges that the commitments made through the Paris Accord are facing at local and national levels. But let’s face it, if it were easy it would have been happening a long time ago and would not need an international agreement to underpin action.
When you talk ‘sustainability’ most people will use some sub-set of terms such as – environmental protection, resource efficiency, water, pollution, community engagement, society… Within each of these pillars, whatever way you view them, energy is an intrinsic part and driving for energy efficiency can deliver some or all of the required improvements. It is an absolute fact that achievement of the required objectives delivers energy savings.
Take water conservation as an example – the energy component associated with extraction, treatment, pumping and disposal of water is massive. So when we take action on water, there are significant energy benefits. And if we are looking to achieve big savings in industry or in our local authorities then water is a great place to start.
Looking to community action – local communities have long been mobilised in the area of sustainability with tidy towns being a great visible example. What we in SEAI are now seeing is communities moving rapidly towards the less visible actions of energy efficiency as a way of delivering increased comfort, health benefits for citizens, as well as the obvious cost savings associated with warmer and more efficient homes.
Both of these examples demonstrate how intrinsic energy is to the sustainability agenda.
When it comes to business, sustainability has been in the business lexicon for some time now. Like all dimensions of what is sometimes put together as the Corporate Social Responsibility agenda sustainability practice ranges from deep to very shallow. And like CSR, doing it badly can do more harm than good – customers and investors know greenwash when they see it. On the other hand done well it can be transformative and this is the type of real action that is being demanded in the current business environment (and by society generally).
Many businesses are responding, realising how energy efficiency can reduce costs, increase competitiveness and, importantly, contribute to their sustainability. Some examples in recent years are Apple’s investment announcements for Ireland specifically linking the importance of renewable energy availability. The Cork Lower Harbour Group, mostly represented at this forum, brought together hi-tech companies DePuy Synthes, GSK, Janssen Biologics and Novartis, investing between them over €20 million in sustainable energy in the recent past , including the development of wind energy generation for their own use. Similarly, a growing number of firms are looking to local biomass resources to meet their need for heat, Aurivo in Roscommon and Abbvie in Cork being two examples. And at the same time, major new business investments, including Diageo, Glanbia and Dairygold, have all put sustainability in to the core design.
There was a time when these kinds of actions and investments were rare, but now they are becoming the new norm. Would we call this kind of behaviour CSR? – I believe the answer is yes. There is no doubt that the best companies are thinking long term and are looking for opportunities – not only to meet the demands of their investors and customers for strong action in the CSR space but also to benefit in parallel from the financial savings that can be achieved and carving out competitive advantage.
Sustainability and CSR is no longer a fringe issue or optional extra, but a major strategic driver in business globally. A transformation in energy and resources is taking place. Last year, over £300 billion was invested in clean energy around the world. In Europe, investment in clean energy assets is now larger than in fossil fuel assets. Any business that is still viewing this agenda as some kind of side event will get left behind.
I believe that sustainability and CSR goals cannot be met without significant action on the sustainable energy front – and so I make the case that they are utterly inseparable – let’s collectively leverage the opportunity that this new movement provides.
About Majella Kelleher:
Majella Kelleher is Head of Energy Demand Management with SEAI with responsibility for programmes in business and the public sector.
Majella is a graduate of University College Cork with a civil engineering degree and of Trinity College Dublin with an MBA, and more recently an MSc in Management (OB). Since joining SEAI she has filled a number of roles most recently as Head of Sustainable Energy Deployment where she had responsibility for a range of deployment schemes in the domestic sector. Prior to this she worked as a business consultant both in Ireland and abroad