How ENGIE impact is enabling sustainability transformations
Mathias Lelievre, CEO, ENGIE Impact, speaks with Energy Digital about the ENGIE spin-off's operations, how it drive sustainability transformation and the challenges facing the opportunities of a sustainable future.
Tell me a bit about yourself and the work you oversee at ENGIE Impact
As the CEO of ENGIE Impact, my objective is to establish ENGIE Impact as the go-to partner for large corporations, cities and public authorities that need support with accelerating the transformation of their operations to be sustainable, getting from commitments to actions.
The way businesses and governments approach sustainability has changed significantly in recent years as technologies have matured and stakeholder demands have grown. Organisations are ready to act, but are challenged with where to prioritise efforts and how to accelerate their sustainability programmes to capitalise on the opportunity it is affording. I guide ENGIE Impact’s development of digital technologies, services and talent so that we can help those businesses and governments.
What inspired ENGIE to launch a dedicated sustainability venture?
In line with the Paris Agreement, over 500 companies have publicly committed to sustainability targets, yet only 15% of those are on track to achieve them. The complexity in identifying and acting on cost-effective sustainability investments means that countless opportunities go unrealised every day, with greater demand from stakeholders like customers and employees that directly impact business performance moving the sustainability discussion into an imperative. Companies are striving towards a zero-carbon future, but the changes aren’t happening fast enough.
ENGIE Impact enables sustainability transformation for companies and authorities that otherwise couldn’t achieve it. We accompany the changes because technologies also require a meaningful transformation of behaviours.
What do you view as the biggest challenges facing companies looking to integrate sustainability into their operations?
Historically, sustainability has been contained to the facility level, but sustainability transformations must apply to the whole organisation.
Businesses that align their objectives and departments with sustainability at their core achieve successful sustainability transformations. Relationships between corporate sustainability and financial decision-makers often lack alignment, meaning that sustainability teams are often brought into the planning process too late and cannot present an effective case. It leads to retrofitting sustainability instead of building sustainability into activities and actions from the ground up. There is tremendous opportunity when you take a holistic view across the enterprise to understand where you can get quick wins, inform how to invest capital and build an integrated strategy to mitigate risk and build on the savings to extend the benefits.
Companies are also failing to effectively measure ROI or outcomes of new sustainability initiatives, such as emissions reductions. The data and tools exist to make this happen, but companies must plan for this up front.
What legislative changes do you think are most pressing for governments seeking to meet the UN’s SDGs and their own carbon neutrality goals?
I believe in the complementarity of governments and businesses working hand-in-hand to face the global threat of climate change. Some governments have been a great support in the past to help mature certain technologies and that support needs to continue.
The regulatory framework must allow technologies to get to market faster. Consider how we can accelerate electric mobility, for example – the prices of electric vehicles (EVs) are declining, whereas, in contrast, non-electric prices are the same as in recent years. The cost curves are going to cross each other at some point and with the right framework and incentives in place this can happen faster.
Businesses have a lot of responsibility to act today. The pressure from stakeholders, as well as the next generation of clients, is increasing. There is a positive business case to shift towards a sustainable business model. It is the responsibility of the business leaders in the world to make sustainability happen today!
Could you offer an example of clients you’ve worked with, such as GE and the successes that ENGIE Impact has helped to facilitate?
GE Renewable Energy is a great example of how an integrated and global approach can accelerate business opportunities. It has a goal to achieve carbon neutrality by the end of 2020, globally, but they need a foundation of data and comprehensive global view of their entire portfolio to effectively understand what action to take. As its partner, ENGIE Impact provides this holistic analysis and, supported by our data management services, we were able to bring a roadmap and business case to achieving this goal, which is then supported by on-site services, like on-site audits. Our team is working with GE Renewable Energy hand-in-hand to ensure the right benchmarks are achieved and it stays on track to deliver its goal!
Is there a gap between the general aims of digital transformation and the need to implement sustainable and ethical processes into modern business?
Digital transformation and sustainability are powerful trends influencing almost every aspect of the corporate landscape. If a business is to be truly modern it should ensure digital transformation and sustainability work hand-in-hand.
AI, Big Data and IoT are all being integrated into the workplace to shift and reshape the market. As the use of these solutions increases, so does the ability to use them for sustainable and ethical processes. Already we see organisations using tools to capture, analyse and act on data to map their environmental footprint and, blockchain has displayed promising solutions for facilitating sustainable investments and enabling supply chain transparency.
Data is at the core of informed sustainability decision-making. Gathering granular data to enhance insights has always been a challenge, but is being made easier via IoT-based solutions. A great example of this is dumpster monitors, which integrate real-time data to better understand an organisation’s waste stream, enabling better-informed decisions on the biggest barriers to achieving zero-waste, and optimisation of waste containers and frequency of pick-ups to drive significant savings. As the demand for sustainable processes increases, we expect organisations to closely align their digital transformation practices and sustainability processes to improve innovation while simultaneously meeting sustainability goals.
The more we use data, the more we need to monitor the carbon production of digital infrastructures. It is clear that the large players are taking the subject very seriously. In a booming industry like the data centre space, being able to design more efficient and green sites from inception is key.
What do you view as the biggest challenges to creating sustainable urban environments, and what steps can be overcome to tackle them?
At present, 80% of greenhouse gas emissions and 75% of global energy use come from cities. Urban environments are a priority area for authorities, as well as companies that contribute to the infrastructure. For authorities, the main barriers holding back sustainability acceleration in towns and cities are: resources: time, people or funding; skills to understand sustainability; and challenges of engaging with and satisfying diverse stakeholders. Good intentions among the authorities to drive change are often challenged by these barriers.
We work with our clients, whether they’re businesses, cities or governments, to make sure that all barriers are identified from the offset and develop a feasible strategy to overcome them. With larger infrastructures, it’s about identifying executable options that could break it down into manageable chunks. Full sustainability transformation will change the very core of how organisations and authorities operate.
Is there anything else you would like to add or reiterate?
Sustainability transformation is happening now! The key is to get to action at speed and at scale because our world cannot wait much longer for a resolute decarbonation of our systems.
The way consumers perceive and interact with organisations who are failing to become more sustainable is helping to drive change. More and more consumers are demanding organisations strengthen their CSR programmes and operate sustainably. An increasing number are voting with their dollars with companies implementing initiatives such as zero carbon. Unilever’s recent announcement that it is cutting plastic use to appeal to Gen Z customers is the latest evidence of this growing trend.
We expect more businesses to take a stand on sustainability and employ CSR initiatives that reduce environmental impact as they seek to satisfy buyers and shoppers that consider sustainability a top priority.
UK must stop blundering into high carbon choices warns CCC
The UK Government must end a year of climate contradictions and stop blundering on high carbon choices, according to the Climate Change Committee as it released 200 policy recommendations in a progress to Parliament update.
While the rigour of the Climate Change Act helped bring COP26 to the UK, it is not enough for Ministers to point to the Glasgow summit and hope that this will carry the day with the public, the Committee warns. Leadership is required, detail on the steps the UK will take in the coming years, clarity on tax changes and public spending commitments, as well as active engagement with people and businesses across the country.
"It it is hard to discern any comprehensive strategy in the climate plans we have seen in the last 12 months. There are gaps and ambiguities. Climate resilience remains a second-order issue, if it is considered at all. We continue to blunder into high-carbon choices. Our Planning system and other fundamental structures have not been recast to meet our legal and international climate commitments," the update states. "Our message to Government is simple: act quickly – be bold and decisive."
The UK’s record to date is strong in parts, but it has fallen behind on adapting to the changing climate and not yet provided a coherent plan to reduce emissions in the critical decade ahead, according to the Committee.
- Statutory framework for climate The UK has a strong climate framework under the Climate Change Act (2008), with legally-binding emissions targets, a process to integrate climate risks into policy, and a central role for independent evidence-based advice and monitoring. This model has inspired similarclimate legislation across the world.
- Emissions targets The UK has adopted ambitious territorial emissions targets aligned to the Paris Agreement: the Sixth Carbon Budget requires an emissions reduction of 63% from 2019 to 2035, on the way to Net Zero by 2050. These are comprehensive targets covering all greenhouse gases and all sectors, including international aviation and shipping.
- Emissions reduction The UK has a leading record in reducing its own emissions: down by 40% from 1990 to 2019, the largest reduction in the G20, while growing the economy (GDP increased by 78% from 1990 to 2019). The rate of reductions since 2012 (of around 20 MtCO2e annually) is comparable to that needed in the future.
- Climate Risk and Adaptation The UK has undertaken three comprehensive assessments of the climate risks it faces, and the Government has published plans for adapting to those risks. There have been some actions in response, notably in tackling flooding and water scarcity, but overall progress in planning and delivering adaptation is not keeping up with increasing risk. The UK is less prepared for the changing climate now than it was when the previous risk assessment was published five years ago.
- Climate finance The UK has been a strong contributor to international climate finance, having recently doubled its commitment to £11.6 billion in aggregate over 2021/22 to 2025/26. This spend is split between support for cutting emissions and support for adaptation, which is important given significant underfunding of adaptation globally. However, recent cuts to the UK’s overseas aid are undermining these commitments.
In a separate comment, it said the Prime Minister’s Ten-Point Plan was an important statement of ambition, but it has yet to be backed with firm policies.
Baroness Brown, Chair of the Adaptation Committee said: “The UK is leading in diagnosis but lagging in policy and action. This cannot be put off further. We cannot deliver Net Zero without serious action on adaptation. We need action now, followed by a National Adaptation Programme that must be more ambitious; more comprehensive; and better focussed on implementation than its predecessors, to improve national resilience to climate change.”
Priority recommendations for 2021 include setting out capacity and usage requirements for Energy from Waste consistent with plans to improve recycling and waste prevention, and issue guidance to align local authority waste contracts and planning policy to these targets; develop (with DIT) the option of applying either border carbon tariffs or minimum standards to imports of selected embedded-emission-intense industrial and agricultural products and fuels; and implement a public engagement programme about national adaptation objectives, acceptable levels of risk, desired resilience standards, how to address inequalities, and responsibilities across society.
Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner said the report is another reminder that if the UK is to meet its ambitious climate targets there is an urgent need to scale up bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).
"As the world’s leading generator and supplier of sustainable bioenergy there is no better place to deliver BECCS at scale than at Drax in the UK. We are ready to invest in and deliver this world-leading green technology, which would support clean growth in the north of England, create tens of thousands of jobs and put the UK at the forefront of combatting climate change."
Drax Group is kickstarting the planning process to build a new underground pumped hydro storage power station – more than doubling the electricity generating capacity at its iconic Cruachan facility in Scotland. The 600MW power station will be located inside Ben Cruachan – Argyll’s highest mountain – and increase the site’s total capacity to 1.04GW (click here).
Lockdown measures led to a record decrease in UK emissions in 2020 of 13% from the previous year. The largest falls were in aviation (-60%), shipping (-24%) and surface transport (-18%). While some of this change could persist (e.g. business travellers accounted for 15-25% of UK air passengers before the pandemic), much is already rebounding with HGV and van travel back to pre-pandemic levels, while car use, which at one point was down by two-thirds, only 20% below pre-pandemic levels.