Leadership is vital for sustainable energy future for all

Being a sustainable organisation means working beyond your boundaries as an entity

By Jayaram Palakkat

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Published: Wed 15 May 2024, 6:03 PM

In today’s rapidly evolving energy landscape, sustainability is critical for businesses across the globe.

It’s very easy to equate sustainability with environmental performance. While environmental aspects are crucial, it is important that a sustainable business approach also embraces social and governance aspects – the three interconnected areas collectively known as ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance).

The social dimension includes, for example, human and worker rights, health and safety, and relationships with the communities in which you operate. Among the elements of governance are how the organisation engages with all its stakeholders, its code of conduct, and ethical considerations. Governance also includes transparency and reporting, but more of that later.

Sustainability must permeate every aspect of an organisation’s operations. But being a sustainable organisation means working beyond your boundaries as an entity – it covers your supply chain and the implications of your product’s life cycle through to their eventual recycling or disposal.

The sheer scope of being genuinely sustainable is the very reason that leadership commitment is a necessity. To become sustainable is a huge undertaking and it doesn’t happen overnight. You need real clarity about your performance and the key, material impacts of your organisation up and down the value chain. Sustainability must be built into your business strategy and a living part of your standards, policies, processes, and target setting. Sustainability must be central to your purpose as an organisation. At Hitachi Energy, our purpose is advancing a sustainable energy future for all.

Jayaram Palakkat - HSE Manager, Hitachi Energy
Jayaram Palakkat - HSE Manager, Hitachi Energy

For a business, sustainability also means operating in a commercially successful manner. However, increasingly those businesses who cannot prove their sustainability credentials are likely to become marginalised and find it harder to survive.

The commitment to sustainability therefore must start at the top tier of management within an organisation though, if that is to translate into actions and outcomes, the hearts and minds of others at all levels need to be committed to the journey.

Mobilising a large and complex international organisation takes a lot of effort but in doing so you are creating a virtuous circle. Early steps may include stakeholder feedback or being assessed by an independent expert which will likely give you valuable insights on where and how to improve so you have a strategy backed by a credible plan of action with realistic targets.

As you take action, your sustainability performance improves. Openly reporting on your sustainability journey builds stakeholder confidence and is highly likely to provide the evidence you need for prospective customers in the bids you submit. Indeed, without evidence of your sustainability credentials, you may not even get past a pre-qualifying stage.

Progress gives leaders something positive to share. Most employees prefer working for a well-regarded organisation. Many of the people you wish to recruit will feel the same and may be excited by the prospect of furthering the sustainable performance of your organisation.

My organisation, Hitachi Energy, has just reviewed and refreshed its sustainability strategy, informed by an extensive materiality assessment with stakeholders, insights from external assessors such as EcoVadis and Science Based Targets initiative, in addition to our own experience in making sustainability part of our DNA.

Given the sector in which we operate, we have a particularly strong interest in tackling climate change. This is a great example of the holistic approach needed to be sustainable.

We’re drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions in our operations and have clear targets to achieve Net Zero by 2050. Our targets also consider emissions in our supply chain. Innovation and collaboration are central to helping customers’ operations, such as electricity transmission, become more efficient.

We are providing and making new solutions such as our EconiQ™ portfolio, which eliminates SF6 – a powerful greenhouse gas – from high-voltage switchgear while maintaining safety, reliability, and performance.

Digitalisation is an enabler of a just energy transition away from fossil fuels. Solutions like advanced grid management systems and smart grid technologies are revolutionising how we produce, distribute, and consume energy.

They necessitate contributions from technology, engineering, and operational experts to develop and deploy. This emphasises the need for multi-stakeholder partnerships, such as industry alliances and public-private partnerships, in scaling up sustainable solutions and driving systemic change across the energy sector.

By embracing innovation, collaboration, and a shared commitment to sustainability, we are advancing the world’s energy system to be more sustainable, flexible, and secure.

None of this happens without leadership committed to sustainability.

Sustainability is a continuous improvement journey and there are many sources of advice and help on what surely is one of the most fundamentally important leadership challenges ever faced.

No organisation has all the answers, or a monopoly on the good ideas or the will to make a difference. For us at Hitachi Energy that means advancing a sustainable energy future for all.

The writer is health, safety and environment manager at Hitachi Energy.

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