Wake up time for energy efficiency, sustainability skills and keeping the lights on

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October 15, 2014

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Government green appeals to the EU and a chilling sustainability report today mean that it really is wake up time if we want to keep the lights on in the long term.

This morning, Ed Davey, the Coalition Energy and Climate Change Minister appealed for comprehensive, convincing EU action to ensure better energy efficiency, supply security and carbon emissions reductions.

Mr Davey told the Green Growth Summit at the European Parliament in Brussels that a progressive EU framework deal on energy, due to be agreed next week, was essential.

At the same time, the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment launched its ‘Skills for a Sustainable Economy – Preparing for the Perfect Storm’ campaign with a study that shows only 13% of companies are fully confident that they have the right skills for the future.

The vast majority of British businesses do not think they have the right expertise to successfully compete in a sustainable economy.

Added focus on the sustainability agenda came today with an examination of whether Britain could keep the lights on, as part of the Guardian’s Big Energy Debate.

More on both those shortly but first let’s focus on Mr Davey’s speech.

Energy efficiency

He spoke to green-aware colleagues in a context of what appears to be renewed reticence across parts of the EU, including Britain, for binding and effective targets for energy efficiency and carbon reduction.

Mr Davey said that the deal next week would give industry the certainty it needed to make huge investments to upgrade and expand the energy infrastructure at the lowest possible cost.

And he was very clear that this did not mean sacrificing EU economies to deal with climate change.

He said: “Quite the opposite – going green means going for growth. And being energy secure doesn’t have to mean sacrificing the planet in the process…going low carbon means using our own natural sustainable resources for a better life, a safer life, a healthier life.”

At SaveMoneyCutCarbon.com, we fully endorse those thoughts, having argued from our launch that being green is best for business. Cutting energy consumption and managing water efficiently are, in our experience, the easiest, quickest and most sustainable ways to ensure control of utility bills while really shrinking carbon footprint.

It’s also the way to reduce reliance on external energy suppliers, as Mr Davey advised: “We will not be over-reliant for energy on any one country in the future. And we will not allow any country to use energy to bully any member of our union.”

Carbon reduction

The EU deal to be finalised next Wednesday and Thursday (22-23 October) is also crucial if Europe can continue to lead the world to a global climate change deal in Paris next year.

It’s clear from the loud chorus of big business, energy firms and trade associations this week that there is a consensus on the vital need for binding carbon reduction targets of at least 30% by 2030. And that means substantial, truly focused national support for energy savings that are sustainable.

The S word is also on the minds of a great many Britishcompanies who recognise the need to invest in new skills, as the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) campaign report starkly shows.

The report advises that in just six short years, the world economy could be facing a supply deficit driven by global mega-trends, including population growth, rising demand for natural resources and spiralling energy costs.

Skills gap

At the same time, there could be further commercial impact from climate change and ecosystem degradation but there is a frightening gap in sustainability skills, according to the companies questioned.

Along with the fear is the opportunity, with growing evidence that a sustainable economy can deliver excellent opportunities for business. Recent IEMA research indicates that companies of all sizes can gain through efficiencies delivered by sustainability strategies – anything from £5000 to more than £1 million annually.

As Tim Balcon, chief executive of the IEMA says: “In the new business world, environment and sustainability can no longer be a bolt on; it needs to be part of businesses’ DNA.

“The most effective way of grasping this opportunity is by ensuring that all businesses have access to a new set of skills – environment and sustainability – to ensure that UK plc and businesses globally can transition and survive in this new economy.”

The IEMA study of more than 900 businesses also shows that only 25% of leaders and 20% of senior managers are fully capable of addressing the sustainability agenda.

Low budgets

There is also a strategic black hole as 65% have yet to fully evaluate skills needed to successfully compete in a sustainable economy and 53% of companies cannot find environment and sustainability professionals with the right skills.

At the same time, internal sustainability/environment training budgets are generally poor with 63% of organisations spending less than £100 per head on this annually.  Nearly three-quarters (72%) of companies polled advised that they invested less in these than for other disciplines.

We heartily support the IEMA skills framework, particularly its key actions:

• Skills for leaders to integrate sustainability into long-term decision making

• Enhance skills and capability for environment and sustainability professionals so they can integrate sustainability throughout their organisations and value chains, building in foresight and horizon scanning and creating the business case

• Increased environment and sustainability knowledge and understanding for all workers

• Environment and sustainability must be integrated into the national curriculum, ensuring that young people entering work are able to play their part at the start of their careers

• Skills gaps at all levels need to be filled, from apprenticeships to those in leadership and managerial roles.

Energy reduction

Rounding off the renewed focus on sustainability was the Guardian’s examination of whether Britain could keep the lights on at times of peak energy demand. It’s a threat that we’ve highlighted over the past 18 months.

While the Big Energy Debate article is sanguine about the potential for blackouts in the short term, it does suggest the need for effective energy reduction schemes whether at home, in business or in organisations.

The essential need to reduce energy consumption has been our watchword continuously. We think that without further, truly attractive national policies for energy efficiency and sustainability, the goals for carbon reduction will not be met and the strain on energy supply will increase while a sustainable economy is starved of skills it needs.

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