Growth and consumption wiping out corporate efficiency gains

Major companies must do "radically more with radically less" if the planet is going to provide for the nine billion people predicted by 2050, says AkzoNobel's director of sustainability, André Veneman.

Speaking in a TV debate on corporate resource efficiency, hosted by AkzoNobel, Veneman pointed to five sectors that the world must look at, in terms of efficiency, if the needs of a further two billion people are to be met.

“About 40% of all the energy and raw materials are used in buildings and infrastructure, and then there is transport and mobility, consumer goods, industrial and energy generation and agriculture. We happen to work in four of these segments and the good news is big transformation is possible in these market segments and is already happening now.

“Buildings and infrastructure, we know we need to move to energy positive, carbon neutral, full recyclability of raw materials. Transportation can become 80% more efficient if big companies have their plans ready today. With consumer goods, we are still so wasteful – we need to design and develop products for full recyclability. Energy generation – we know that we need to become at least four to ten times more eco efficient,” he added.

Veheman said that if these benchmarks can be met then it is “possible to live with nine billion people on the planet”. However, efficiency is just the tip of the iceberg in the journey to a sustainable future and many larger firms have incorporated efficiency in to a much wider sustainability strategy.

On the debate panel, head of business & industry relations at WWF, Dax Lovegrove said that efficiency gains may not be making the environmental impact companies set out to achieve.

“If you think about white goods, aircraft, vehicles, appliances they are all getting more energy efficient as they are modernised but the sheer growth in use and ownership of such things is rapidly growing. That growth wipes away the efficiency gains that some companies are making.

“Therefore companies need to get out of relative improvements and move to absolute improvements, despite business growth and despite consumption growth,” he added.

Lovegrove stressed that this will involve “transformational changes and new business models”.

Highlighting AkzoNobel’s own sustainability strategy, Planet Possible, Veneman said that the company is on a journey to connect value creation to resource efficiency.

“We know that our success depends on our ability to do radically more with radically less, so we have adopted a strategy which involves us working with customers to open up infinite possibilities in a finite world.

“It’s important that we accelerate the pace of our commitment and better understand the changes that will be required in our market segments, so we are taking a major step to turn challenges into opportunities,” he added.

Leigh Stringer

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