While there has been plenty of inspiration to go around in Rio, the Corporate Sustainability Forum is focused on business after all. The good news is that there is plenty of opportunity for businesses in two of the key Corporate Sustainability initiatives that Rio+20 is focused on - doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency and the UN Secretary General's initiative to provide Sustainable Energy for All: Here are some highlights from the session I sat in focused on the energy efficiency challenge.
This session moderated by Paul Simpson of the CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project), the discussion was focused on utilizing energy efficiency as a lever to create a Win/Win/Win for investors, businesses and consumers. The panelists from Siemens, the Sinopec Institute, Intel, Dow, China Minmetals Corp and Embraco (a Brazilian producer of refrigeration compressors) each brought different perspectives, but were all from companies that have embraced sustainability as a core aspect of their strategy and are on the cutting edge of implementing energy efficiency programs both in their operations and in the products they develop.
Each participant provided some terrific insights into what their businesses are doing and how they are turning energy efficiency into a strategic differentiator and an ROI-driver for their organization, but I thought I'd take a minute to speak about the Q&A session at the end of the event. The first question was about the need for radical innovation and how companies can be encouraged to implement radical solutions. The feedback from the panelists went back to the need for governments to do more to encourage the deployment of traditional innovation. There was general agreement that it is not about getting the small percentage of companies who are already drinking the Kool-Aid on energy efficiency to do more radical things, but to encourage all companies to take advantage of the low hanging fruit in energy efficiency and make themselves more efficient and profitable at the same time.
As Gabriela Werner from Embraco mentioned, "Payback on energy efficiency always pays back, but it is sometimes out of the timeframe for businesses. Common sense government incentives will help bridge that divide." These are big, multi-national companies that have saved billions of dollars via energy efficiency, agreeing that government regulatory standards are they key to increased energy efficiency across the global economy. If energy efficiency is the easiest, most effective way to lower our energy consumption, and big companies have proven it is profitable, what are our governments waiting for?
There was also a question that sparked a discussion about one of my favorite topics, employee engagement inside of businesses. Neil Hawkins from Dow spoke very eloquently to this point. As he mentioned, "There are vast numbers of people that we recruit that are ‘on fire' to be involved with sustainability. By unleashing the passion of employees to impact the world, we ignite innovation inside or organization and create opportunity on multiple levels."
So my takeaways from this event were: 1. Businesses have proven that energy efficiency is a profitable exercise; 2. Energy efficiency is THE most effective way to quickly lower our global energy consumption; 3. We need government involvement to encourage ALL businesses to invest in this money saving initiative and leading businesses agree; 4. By encouraging more companies to get involved, the passion of employees will be released and more innovation will occur, resulting in more opportunities to save energy.
Let's get going.