Jason Ackermann, CPPM
With the changes that are taking place in Washington and the selection of Rick Perry to lead the Department of Energy, many of the subsidies for renewable projects could very well be scaled back, if not phased out completely. As a country, we have spent the better part of two decades weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels. Renewable energy was an industry in its babyhood with almost unlimited potential and most renewable energy projects were easy to sell with a major portion being funded by large government grants and subsidies. Now that the era of incentivization is coming to its conclusion, will the Sustainable Energy sector be sustainable?
Or, is this the end of renewable energy projects?
Riding with the Big Boys
In all new sectors of business, there comes a time when the government subsidy training wheels must come off. This is the test of any good industry. Can Sustainable Energy become the “big-boy-bike-riding” industry that it has been touted to be for the past 20 years?
The answer is absolutely.
Now more than ever before, those that want to see sustainable practices and increased use of renewable energy sources need to change how we communicate the beneficial impact of energy projects. It is no longer enough to tout the environmental impact of these projects. Times have changed and the conversations around energy projects must also change in order to still be relevant today.
Bumps & Scrapes
I know it may be hard to believe, but not every company or the executives that run them, give a second thought about the environment. This doesn’t make them bad companies or executives. To some, the capital outlays need to bring a return, because their role within the company is to steward the limited resources that they have, to bring the biggest ROI. With the potential of losing some or all government incentives, we need to better understand how to communicate to those that lead the financial realm of our companies. If you’re not a numbers guy, there is a great tool, provided by Xcel Energy here, to assist you in making your case.
The benefits of renewable energy are proven to save money for many companies as well as provide an additional connection point with energy conscience consumers. Technological advances are also continuing to improve upon the efficiency of captured energy (i.e., solar panels designed by Elon Musk’s company, Tesla), which add considerable promise for the future of many forward-thinking companies looking to shave expenses.
Beyond a simple cash on cash return there are many other factors within energy projects that need to be quantified in order to compete head to head with other projects. Studies have shown that energy projects not only can save on operating costs, but may lead to increased productivity and overall employee health creating a much greater impact to the bottom line than just the easily quantifiable monetary gain, check thelockboss.
As the industry grows from adolescence to adulthood it will prove time and again, that for the money, Renewable Energy Projects not only pay, but create the greatest value for the organization. Looking forward, it is a very exciting time to be involved in the renewable energy sector, watching it take its first few wobbly trips down the block. It’ll soon enough be yelling, “Look Ma, no hands!”
What used to be considered green virtue has now morphed into a crucial competitive tool.
That business has a role to play in improving the environment and dealing with climate change is certain. What is much less so is how to do that, and for some, whether to try. After all, companies feel comfortable doing business as usual, and few want to threaten their competitiveness in favor of green virtue.
Our point is that this is not an either or question. A growing number of examples—from diverse industries—show that sustainable business practices can be good for business from the bottom-line up. For example, Unilever (UN -1.70%) has developed washing-up fluids that use less water—and sales are growing fast, particularly in water-scarce markets. And most everyone can name a favorite product or two whose brand is intimately associated with its green credentials. My point is that sustainability can be much more—that it has a role in any and all sectors.
Here are a few examples that McKinsey has been involved with that prove the point. (For confidentiality reasons, we cannot use the company names).
⦁ A major brewer identified some 150 possible improvements that could reduce GHG emissions—while saving $200 million over five years.
⦁ When a water utility benchmarked its performance against that of other utilities, it figured out where the biggest opportunities were—in this case energy and chemicals. After four years, the results were in: less leakage, fewer customer complaints—and $178 million in savings—a 25 percent reduction in operating costs.
⦁ A state-owned industrial company in China increased the energy yield of its coal significantly simply by tracking it better, making sure the first mined was the first used. That improved energy efficiency as well as carbon intensity, while reducing costs 13 percent.
The nitty-gritty of sustainability programs can get complicated. But the principles are actually pretty simple—and should be familiar to executives. First, and most important, is to acknowledge that sustainability is serious. The case is not that difficult to make. In a McKinsey survey of 340 executives, more than 90 percent said risk management—whether from consumers, regulators, or the market (for example, high resource prices)—was an important factor in pushing them toward sustainability initiatives, check chiropractic techniques.
Once the decision is taken, define priorities, set measurable targets, evaluate costs and benefits, and create consistent incentives, including those related to executive compensation. For example, Nike (NKE -2.05%) tracks its suppliers on a range of metrics, including quality, timeliness, cost—and sustainability. Falter for long on any of these, and the consequence is fewer orders. Result: many more suppliers are hitting their sustainability mark. DuPont (DD -1.22%) has no trouble justifying its sustainability initiatives to shareholders: it is generating billions in revenue from products that reduce emissions. Intel (INTC -0.32%) has a dedicated finance analyst whose job is to calculate the value of its sustainability efforts. To reduce emissions and improve other environmental metrics in its food chain, Wal-Mart (WMT -1.48%) tracks not only GHG output, but also yield, water use, and other factors per ton of food produced. In addition to achieving environmental improvements, it cut the price of food and vegetables in the United States by $3.5 billion.
It is important to define targets that are both specific and achievable; it’s better to say “Eliminate X million pounds of packaging,” than the vague “Reduce the footprint of our packaging.” As of August 2014, though, a McKinsey analysis found that only one in five companies in the business marketing 500 had explicit, long-term sustainability goals, even though more than a third (36 percent) said sustainability was a top-three priority.
The larger point is this. Real sustainability efforts are core business efforts; because they are not always easy, they can help a company to raise its game and perform better in all kinds of ways. In mid-2014, McKinsey did a study that found a strong correlation between resource efficiency and financial performance; the companies with the most advanced sustainability strategies did best of all. In a study for the Harvard Business School that drew similar conclusions (higher return on equity and assets for higher-sustainability companies), the authors concluded, “developing a corporate culture of sustainability may be a source of competitive advantage in the long run.”
To think of sustainability as a niche gets it wrong. To do it right, companies need to be rigorous, goal-oriented, and accountable. The evidence is building not only that sustainability initiatives work, but that they are an important factor in creating long-term value.
Jeremy Oppenheim is a director of McKinsey & Company, based in London and a global leader in the Sustainability & Resource Productivity network. In 2014, he served as program director for the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate. Martin Stuchtey is Director of the McKinsey Center for Business & Environment and is based in Munich.