A business guide to delivering a sustainable future – how can it help you?

A business guide to delivering a sustainable future – how can it help you?

The issues around climate change reach far and wide. We’ve seen climate change influence elections and define societies. It’s been the subject of major Hollywood movies. And it’s now also influencing the way we all run and do business. Indeed, it’s not just those companies born out of ethically responsible values who face the need to tackle climate change and carve out a sustainable future. It touches every business, big or small. Certainly for E.ON, climate change and sustainability sits at the heart of everything we do. We’re using innovative solutions to shape a sustainable energy world.

For you, sustainability could mean improving your bottom line. It could mean responding to customer demands, increasing your brand reputation, even opening up new revenue opportunities. Whatever the opportunity – and there will be many – embracing sustainability requires shifts in business strategy, ambitions, and possibly a completely new philosophy. There are various ways to tackle this. The very best businesses do so by thinking and working creatively. They inject their thinking with creative energy to find new, powerful solutions. And you can too. As big proponents of creative energy ourselves, we’ve picked out four ways that inspire us – and other businesses – to think differently about sustainability. 

1. Think intelligent

You’ll no doubt have heard the phrase ‘data is king’ used liberally by businesses over the past few years. But it’s not just about obtaining that data; it’s being able to view it, understand it and implement it in a way that it can have a genuine impact. Because every business is different. A solution that works for one might not necessarily work for another. Being able to look at the data and tailor a process or solution to a specific business need will always generate better results.

The really exciting thing is that it’s never been easier to do it. In the world of energy, for example, energy management has never been so easy, thanks to tools and systems that are built on perfect understanding.

Business snapshot: Once you’ve determined your sustainability goals, think creatively about how you can best optimize your performance using the insights you have. 

Certainly at E.ON, we’ve seen the benefits of implementing Optimum, a cloud based modular application that gives businesses true energy intelligence. Optimum makes a business’ energy data available at their fingertips, which can be used to manage energy consumption and generation in a more tailored way. This can help businesses reduce costs, increase savings, protect the environment, achieve their energy goals and ultimately translate energy challenges into real business benefits.  

2. Think category defining

Businesses can often feel constrained by the industry they’re operating in. But just because your industry doesn’t feel pioneering in the sustainability space, it doesn’t mean that you can’t think creatively in order to lead the way. Take the hotel industry. The Radisson Blu in Frankfurt took the initiative by becoming the first hotel in Europe with an industrial-sized fuel cell. Installed by E.ON, this innovative decentralised solution will help the Radisson Blu to generate its own energy virtually free from pollution, supplying large quantities of electricity and heat to the building.

Business snapshot: Not every solution is the most obvious. Whether you’re tackling a job for the first time or the thousandth, dedicate some time to considering whether there’s a better answer to the problem.  

It’s a solution that came down to ambition and creative thinking. Rather than suggesting a traditional CHP, E.ON came up with a different idea: a fuel cell. Supplying three gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity and two GWh of heat to the hotel, a fuel cell will reduce the hotel’s carbon emissions by about 600 tons a year. And all this it does silently, without disturbing the hotel guests.

But most interestingly, it was an option that went beyond reducing energy costs. It can also attract customers. As friendliness towards the environment becomes a factor in the everyday choices we make, customers are making conscious choices based on this competitive advantage. Which in turn will affect a business’ bottom line. 

3. Think long-term

Sustainability requires businesses to think more long-term about how they will achieve their carbon targets. But it’s often difficult to reconcile this with the need to make immediate cost savings.

That’s a mindset that needs to change throughout the business. It’s not just down to the energy managers, but those in the boardroom too. Delaying putting carbon reduction plans in place will drastically increase a business’s risk in the future. The architecture for sustainability takes years to implement, so the best advice is to start now.

Take Henkel as an example. The company made an ambitious strategy in 2010 to become three times more efficient by 2030. That meant they had to improve their efficiency by an average of 5 to 6 percent each year. So what have they done to make sure they’re on target to achieve this goal? They’ve put in place interim targets for 2020 and established key drivers needed to cement their leading sustainable position.

At E.ON we encourage long term calculations and business models that will last long into the future. We can implement savings into a range of 10 to 20 years. But crucially for those in the boardroom looking for quicker returns, that doesn’t necessarily mean our customers have to wait long to see a return on those savings. In many instances, it’s likely that a business will see a return in under five years, and sometimes below two years, by working together on establishing bespoke roadmaps that work specifically for them.

Indeed, thinking long term means understanding your business and the context in which savings can be implemented. That way, you can find a sustainable solution which is explicitly tailored to your needs. 

Business snapshot: Work hard to get buy-in from all levels of the business, so that everyone understands early on the long-term direction in which you’re heading.  

4. Think big

Business snapshot: Take a step back and try to understand how your organisation uses energy as a whole. You may hit upon a broader solution that could yield truly business-changing results.  

For businesses to really revolutionalise the way they see sustainability, they need to see the bigger picture. Making carbon savings by installing solar panels or sourcing renewable energy are the first steps to becoming carbon neutral, but the next stage requires a rethink of the entire energy system.

In the energy chain, everything is valuable, so rethinking heat or cooling as a commodity is essential for a sustainable future.

Ectogrid is a flexible energy system which balances energy demand within a city. By connecting buildings with different heating or cooling needs, it guarantees a reduction in waste, pollution, and energy consumption. It’s this kind of technology that will radically change the systems that are currently holding back businesses on the road to becoming carbon neutral. 

Looking holistically at the way we use and waste energy means businesses can improve the efficiency of their entire operation. Ectogrid balances energy surplus and demand from each building by changing the temperate of the system. The end result? Improved performance of every system linked to the grid and more room for renewable energy. 

Sustainability means something different for every business. But the opportunities posed by and the inevitability of a carbon neutral future means that all need to think with creative energy to find smarter and more fruitful solutions.