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.