How to build public trust in a sustainable energy future

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Julie Sweet, Chief Executive Officer, Accenture & Patrick Pouyanné, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, Total

  • Delivering the transition rests on inspiring public trust – and this will be good for the bottom line, too.
  • To galvanize this trust, companies must use three levers: purpose, actions and transparency.
  • Read the Fostering Effective Energy Transition report 2021 here.

As co-chairs of the World Economic Forum’s Partnering Against Corruption Initiative (PACI), we are committed to strengthening trust and transparency between public and private stakeholders. The transition to a more inclusive, affordable and sustainable energy future provides a unique opportunity for stakeholders to come together to transform intent into impact.

Delivering the transition will require integrity, trust and collaboration across the entire ecosystem. Accenture’s analysis suggests that 25% of potential emissions reductions achievable through 2050 – equivalent to over 10 GT per year – are dependent on collaboration between energy suppliers and their customers. The message is clear; when it comes to creating the new energy future, no one company or country can do it alone. Companies, partners, suppliers, customers, communities and governments all play a role.

We are at an inflection point. COVID-19 has triggered the single biggest change in human behaviour in history, and in turn, has triggered the single biggest reinvention of industry in living memory. Collectively, there is an urgency like never before to put our trust in one another and our institutions to come through the pandemic stronger and more resilient. To succeed in the energy transition, we will need to similarly rally around a shared purpose, collective action and – above all – the belief that we are all in this together.

Three levers of trust

Securing the public’s trust during the energy transition is good for the planet – and also for the bottom line. Accenture’s Competitive Agility Index, which measures the value of a company’s interdependent growth, profitability and sustainability strategy, has found that companies that experience a loss in trust also see their index score decline and this can lead to a fall of almost 10% in EBITA growth.

To galvanize this trust, companies must activate three levers:

1. Purpose

Leaders must articulate their energy-transition goals and demonstrate a commitment to deliver on the promises they have made. Doing so is not just the right thing to do – it’s what consumers expect. Accenture research reveals that almost two-thirds of consumers are eager for companies to take a stance on issues they believe in.

At Total and Accenture, we have been outspoken about our intentions to be responsible business leaders. We are embedding sustainability and responsible business practices in all we do so we may create a better, more inclusive future for all and deliver access to reliable, affordable and clean energy. In the context of energy sustainability, Total and Accenture have both publicly committed to getting to net zero, together with society, to support the carbon-neutrality objective outlined in the Paris Agreement.

2. Actions

Sustainability is a business imperative for leaders in all industries. For that reason, companies involved in the transition must be committed to delivering on their goals – and to helping others do the same wherever possible.

The latter could mean, for example, running offices with 100% renewable energy and working with suppliers to reduce their emissions. Another key lever in this journey comes from combining sustainability and digital technologies to drive future competitiveness. Migrating to “greener cloud” solutions, for example, can reduce a company’s on-premise enterprise IT-related carbon emissions by up to 84% – and their total cost of ownership of IT infrastructure by up to 40%.

For energy companies, this could mean drastically decreasing emissions from their operations, transforming the mix of energy products that they sell to their customers and steering them towards low-carbon energy products and solutions. Additional actiosn could include investing massively in renewable electricity production and expanding activities in biofuels, energy storage and green gases such as biogas or hydrogen. By the same token, carbon prices can be built into project assessments to ensure the viability of projects and long-term strategies. Furthermore, investments in carbon sinks based on technologies (such as carbon capture use and storage) or nature-based solutions are an important part of this puzzle. It is increasingly important to keep in mind that while contributing to their own net-zero ambitions, energy companies must also help their customers reduce their emissions and become more energy efficient.

We must also continue to work with business partners, academia and development agencies to build off-grid energy solutions, promote economic development through connected information and communication technologies, and entrepreneurship training. The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI) is one such example of a CEO-led initiative that aims to accelerate the industry response to climate change, and has formed several partnerships to explore carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) technology.

3. Transparency

Companies leading the transition must continually measure their progress and clearly communicate the results of their efforts. Doing so not only builds trust, it encourages others to follow suit.

This means measuring actions across the board and publishing these results regularly and externally —from how effectively energy companies are reducing emissions or adjusting the mix of energy products, to encouraging behavioural changes among customers. Beyond measuring your own sustainability progress, companies can also help clients measure theirs. For example, a carbon-intensity indicator can be used to evaluate the average greenhouse gas emissions from the energy products sold to customers on a full life-cycle basis. This indicator can track customers’ demand for lower-carbon products and can measure the transition of a company’s energy mix. Another example is the Green Navigator, a tool that enables customers to measure their carbon reductions when they move to the cloud.

For example, each of our companies measures its own progress while helping clients measure theirs. At Total, our carbon-intensity indicator evaluates the average greenhouse gas emissions for the energy products we sell to our customers on a full life-cycle basis. We use the indicator to track customer demand for lower-carbon products and to measure the transitioning of our energy mix. Total is a LEAD company with the UN Global Compact. Last year, Accenture announced a partnership together with SAP to help companies integrate the 17 Sustainable Development Goals into their core business.

Transitioning with momentum

This is the moment for business, government and society to come together to reimagine, rebuild and transform our global economy into one that works for the benefit of all. We are excited that so many companies, organizations and governments are aligning around a common purpose of affordable, reliable, sustainable energy – as evidenced by last year’s doubling of government and businesses commitments to reach net zero. Now is the time for all of us to build on this momentum. To step up our actions. To deliver on our promises. And to provide the transparency needed to build and sustain trust.

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