Are energy skills key to sustainability?

In a world where the cost of raw materials is rising, against a backdrop of economic uncertainty and flat-lining profits, youd think that many companies wouldve downgraded the importance of their commitments toward a sustainable planet. Some have. But others, a small but increasing number, are seeing opportunities to redefine their businesses and seize the initiative in this new economy.

For sustainability sceptics the agenda is too vague, intangible and it sounds expensive - spending money trying to do good - cutting carbon emissions, supporting charities, making sure we recycle more and pollute less. But what if we saw it as a chance to do good whilst increasing profitability? These two things arent as mutually exclusive as you may think. Marks and Spencer, for example, have been trailblazers in the retail sector with their sustainability strategy, Plan A. It covers all their main operations, with commitments on everything from recycling to ensuring animal welfare standards in farming. But its the effect its had on their bottom-line that catches the eye. In 2010, Plan A generated 70m in profit in a stagnant economy with lower consumer spending and a large of proportion of this was generated through energy efficiency measures.

Energy has now moved to the forefront of many companies agenda, not just driven by sustainability, but also by external pressures: rising gas and electricity costs - and compliance with government policies designed to cut carbon emissions. Also at stake is a companys reputation capital. As awareness of environmental and sustainability issues rises among the general public its better to be seen to be doing something rather than nothing. But perhaps its trump card is that compared to other sustainability initiatives, energy reduction combines the best commercial returns with the most tangible benefits.

The game is changing, and as such a new breed of energy managers have come to the fore in response to these market forces. We recently published a white paper called: The Evolution of the Energy Manager: From Boiler Room to Board Room where we talked to industry experts on energy about how the role of the Energy Manager has changed. Previously this position had been purely a technical one and the Energy Manger was typically seen in the boiler room, spanner in hand. But now the role has evolved into something more strategic - todays energy executive is more likely to be found in the board room explaining an efficiency strategy that will save the company some money.

Furthermore, the new energy skill-set has widened to the extent that a diverse team is now the solution for some companies. This team might consist of:

  • Strategists: to identify innovation and growth opportunities.
  • Financial experts: to look at the effectiveness of long-term energy investments and proposing new funding models.
  • Skilled communicators: for dealing with internal and external stakeholders.
  • Technical experts: hands on skills are still required.
  • Also in the mix are skills around emerging technologies, such as smart metering and knowledge of renewable energy generation.

With such a diverse skill-set being required, energy is definitely an area where you can build a career and perhaps without a glass ceiling. The contributors we interviewed were reluctant to predict such a rise from Energy Manager to CEO - but if the Energy Manager was innovative enough to establish new revenue streams, the strategic and management expertise required would certainly be sufficient experience for a CEO role. In the meantime, the future for the energy team looks good. With widespread agreement that energy prices will continue to rise, and a sluggish economy likely for the immediate future, the stage is set for businesses to develop innovative and profitable energy efficiency programmes.

For more information, visit Acre Resources at or follow them @AcreResources.

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