The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a “universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity”. Touching on all aspects of sustainability, they are becoming the foundation of policies and strategies related to sustainable development. Businesses are one of the only entities large and powerful enough to facilitate real change, and are vital in implementing the SDGs.
In a recent blog – ‘Sustainable Development Goals – how businesses should act?’ – we described what the SDGs are and how businesses should pick goals that best suit their strategy. With a total of 17 goals and 169 targets, it may not be easy to integrate all the SDGs into a business at once. This blog is the first of a new series helping organisations understand each goal and its relevance to their business practices
Affordable and clean energy – sustainable development goal 7 – aims to ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy by 2030. So why is this goal so important in ensuring sustainable development? While the percentage of people with access to electricity is steadily increasing, and many heralding this decade as ‘the rise of renewable energy’, energy still accounts for 60% of greenhouse gas emissions globally, yet one in five people do not have access to modern energy. Ensuring everyone has access to clean energy is key in achieving many of the other SDGs, such as combating climate change and eradicating poverty. Energy is our ‘enabler’ as it enables us to carry out our daily lives and progress. For people living in poverty, having access to modern energy can lead to new opportunities, allowing them to progress as well. Modern energy will allow them to work more efficiently, increase the amount of food they grow and open-up new prospects in communication and employment. Ensuring this energy is also clean will help prevent the 3.5 million premature deaths that result from household air pollution due to traditional fuels such as coal.
While it is vital to ensure everyone has access to modern energy, we simultaneously have to contend with the fact that the world’s natural energy resources are running out. Human population continues to increase exponentially, and arguably the greatest threat to humanity – climate change, is predominantly driven by the world’s production and consumption of energy. The UN aims to overcome these contradictory challenges by increasing the share of renewable energy in the universal energy mix, doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency, and enhancing international cooperation to facilitate access to clean energy research and technology – all by 2030. But this goal cannot be achieved unless individuals and businesses will put in the effort needed to make this happen.
There are many things a business can do to enable affordable and clean energy for all whilst benefiting the business. Improving the energy efficiency of your business is a good place to start. In the energy audits we conduct, we identify many simple fixes one can make to reap the benefits from the low hanging fruit associated with energy efficiency. Not only will this reduce the load on the grid (which will help achieve SDG 7), it will reduce costs for your business and boost the bottom line. Once your business has ensured its energy efficiency, the next step you could take is to generate your own power. Renewable energy technologies reduce a business’ dependency on the grid, replace carbon intensive energy with clean energy, and can also create profit for the business as a long term investment. We recently completed such a project for ASOS, which helped them to achieve their business goals as well as SDG 7.
In 2015, the service and industrial sector together accounted for 31% of final energy consumption. If all businesses were to reduce their energy demand and produce a proportion of their energy themselves, then the UK would be a long way into achieving the aims associated with sustainable development goal 7 by 2030. The EIA predicts that world energy consumption is going to increase by 48% by 2040. Therefore, if the goal of affordable and clean energy for all is going to be achieved, businesses must ensure they are energy efficient and contribute to the world’s clean energy production.