By Dave Abood, Managing director, Accenture Sustainability Services in North America.
In the third of our Dispatches from Rio+20 series, Accenture's Dave Abood examines the issue on energy efficiency, and the role that governments have to play in driving innovation in the field.
Is it possible to double the rate of energy efficiency improvement by 2030? The business panelists of a workshop I chaired at the UNGC Corporate Sustainability Forum this weekend in Rio seemed to think so. So why did these business leaders also want government intervention?
The 2030 target is one of three set by United Nations Secretary General Bank-Ki Moon as part of the Sustainable Energy for All agenda, which sets much of the debate here twenty years after the first Earth Summit. According to my panelists at the UN Global Compact Corporate Sustainability Forum, energy efficiency opportunities are all around us and can be captured for significant cost savings and energy reduction in the near term. Whether they were from North or South America, Europe or China, the panelists reached a strong consensus on this point. Further, opportunities can be captured with today’s existing technologies and, in most cases, at attractive returns. The issue that each company expressed was not a lack of technology, but the challenge of deployment at scale.
That’s where the panelists called for government intervention. Government at the right level, whether local, regional or national, will be required to incentivize or even mandate deployment of certain existing technologies, while also setting the conditions for further innovation. Examples brought up by Neil Hawkins from Dow Chemical and Jens Dinkel of Siemens related to standards and codes for buildings, appliances, and vehicles. Gabriella Werner of Embraco, maker of compressors for refrigeration, discussed how one recent innovation in their product, which many of us would never even know existed in the guts of our refrigerators and air conditioners, was able to produce a 40 percent energy efficiency improvement.
Another example of the role of government came from Weijun Xie of China Minmetals and Xihong Li of SINOPEC, who discussed how efficiency expectations and standards both from the national government as well as from inside their own companies aligned well to drive business returns for the company and its customers while also delivering on the national strategy for cleaner energy and energy efficiency.
The panelists did not explicitly push for more regulation, but they all clearly felt there is a need and relatively easy opportunity for smart standards and guidelines.
Government intervention is often called for in the area of innovation, particularly for high risk, early stage technologies. But our Rio discussion revealed that businesses feel that they, themselves, have much to do drive breakthrough technologies. Many energy efficiency solutions cannot develop in stand-alone environments -- Intel’s Stephen Harper talked about new initiatives in the information, technology and communications sectors, where companies and universities are collaborating to drive new efficiency improvements in hardware.
All our panelists pointed to tremendous improvements they had achieved in energy efficiency, either within their own organizations or through the products and services they are taking to market. It is rare for business leaders to call for more intervention from government. But their view was that, of all environmental goals, energy efficiency could generate one of the greatest returns for the climate and for resource efficiency, precisely because it benefits business. Smart government support might therefore be welcomed by businesses and deliver the scale that is required to reach the United Nations’ goal.
Note: The views expressed in this article do not represent the views of Accenture or the author but are a reflection of a panel discussion held at the UNGC Corporate Sustainability Forum in Rio on 16th June 2012.
About the Author: Dave Abood is Managing Director of Accenture’s Sustainability Services practice in North America. He joined Accenture in 1989 after earning a BS degree in Electrical Engineering from Columbia University in New York City. Dave has over 20 years experience leading business and technology change initiatives from strategy through solution design, planning and implementation. He works with clients in a wide range of industries to develop strategies and implement solutions to address the business opportunities and risks associated with sustainability, resource optimization and the move to a low-carbon economy.
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