Key Differences between Energy Efficiency and Sustainability
Environmentalists are hindered by a lack of clarity around the distinction between sustainability and energy efficiency.
Large companies started to understand the importance of energy around ten years ago. Energy has been a major driver of economic growth for a long time (a belief that is still held today by Congress). It was worth paying more to get a truck moving faster.
Businesses can save money with the sustainability movement. This situation is where a slower delivery vehicle can save enough gasoline to compensate for its time lost. There are many low-hanging fruits that sustainability professionals can use to save businesses millions each year. However, this has had unintended consequences for our business.
According to current definitions, sustainability is 99 percent cost savings and 1% environmental benefits. The 1% difference in cost savings is not really a marketing value. It’s only a way to get employees to buy-in. It is the carrot that motivates sustainability specialists to work tirelessly. Our industry has lost sight of the primary goal — reducing pollution — and instead focuses on energy efficiency.
The environment is not a beneficiary of efficiency. It may actually be more harmful to the environment than not doing anything. Higher profitability equals efficiency. Higher profits translate into higher energy consumption.
Profits = Energy Efficiency = Higher Energy Use
Growth is wonderful, don’t get me wrong. What good is long-term growth if it’s not?
Our misplaced blame is a large factor in the problem. These are two well-known statistics to consider:
Industrial facilities are responsible for more than 2% of global CO2 activity.
40% of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide are caused by buildings.
These statements are familiar to you. You’re likely doing all you can to cut down on your energy consumption by using every energy-saving technology that is available.
It is a waste our time.
This isn’t going to solve the root cause of the problem. It’s not about reducing Hydra’s hair. The world produces virtually no CO2e emissions from buildings and IT equipment. These emissions are generated by a coal-fired power station, which provides electricity. Diesel fuel is still used in the production of an efficient truck.
Energy efficiency is actually a way to increase CO2 emissions. This is the ugly truth. The electricity companies do not have to invest in CO2e scrubber technology every time you make an energy efficiency proposal.
Let’s go over the formula again:
Profits = Unsustainable Growth = Higher CO2e Emissions
If sustainability isn’t about energy efficiency, then what is it? True sustainability would have outputs and inputs that can be interchanged. A truly sustainable business would not waste any resources and have minimal growth requirements. It’s also known as the Cradle-to-Cradle design principle. Consider the IT equipment example above.
In winter, heat escapes outside of air-conditioned IT rooms. This is a more efficient option. This would heat employees using the waste heat from the conduitwork. However, we now have a long-term solution. There is no trash to dispose of.
Sustainability = profits = sustainable growth = zero emissions
We, sustainability experts, are actually betraying the cause of the planet and the planet by not moving one step further from efficiency to sustainability. We are wasting our time. SRE is the best place to start if you are looking for ways to improve your company’s energy and sustainability practices.