Smart Growth: bringing together business and society to tackle climate change

Last week I was honoured to be a key note speaker at Business in the Community (BITC) Smart Growth Summit supported by EDF Energy during Responsible Business Week, marking the 10th anniversary of the Prince of Wales' call for businesses to address climate change.

Smart Growth: bringing together business and society to tackle climate change

My company, EDF Energy, is proud to have been one of the first to answer his call. Ten years later, we continue to be proud of our collective achievements and the impact we’ve had.

At the summit, a new report was launched highlighting the journey businesses have made to address climate change over the past decade.  It struck a chord.  In many respects, 2007 was the start of our own low-carbon journey. For us, “Zero Carbon” isn’t just a slogan – it is deeply rooted, right at the heart of the operational and industrial reality of our business.

If I look back to 2007, we made commitments about the role we hoped to play in addressing our impacts on the climate. Even then, we recognised it was as much a human challenge as a technical one. Climate change challenges are intrinsically entwined with societal challenges, and in 2008, we launched our social commitments to help address the issues facing our society. By 2012, recognition of the importance of reducing carbon emissions had become increasingly widespread within businesses and consumers. We celebrated success at the London 2012 Olympic Games, not just on the athletics field but also by delivering the most sustainable games to date, powered by low-carbon nuclear energy.

Since 2007, we have sought to minimise our own carbon emissions and to help others to do the same.  This is a challenge for all companies, but is particularly challenging for energy companies. Our generation mix has become predominantly low-carbon with nuclear and renewables and we have reduced the carbon intensity of our electricity generation by over 90% over the decade. We have kept in mind the importance of driving societal change in tackling climate change. For example, we developed a Sustainable Schools Programme, The Pod, which has helped to inspire the next generation to act sustainably. So far, around 21,000 schools have registered to be involved.  The energy savings and waste reductions driven by children as part of this programme are very real.  Their engagement in sustainability is equally real.

At the Smart Growth Summit, over 100 businesses agreed that despite significant progress in the last 20 years, it is now vital that business accelerates progress towards a 2oC economy through leadership and collaboration.

At EDF Energy, we are accelerating through ‘The Better Plan’ which launched during Responsible Business Week. It is our updated sustainable and responsible business framework. It sets out what we plan to do in the next stage of our journey. We’re “turning up the dial” yet again.

A lot of the themes addressed during Responsible Business Week play a prominent part in The Better Plan; not least recognising the importance of ensuring societal sustainability in working towards a 2oC world. We want to be at the forefront of delivering three big improvements for society. We want to deliver:

  • Better Lives: Innovating to transform people’s lives with skills and job opportunities
  • Better Experience: Innovating to help all customers manage energy better; and
  • Better Energy: Innovating to lead the UK’s transition to safe, low-carbon energy.

The Better Plan is also a way for us to drive innovation, achieve profitable business growth, save costs and manage the risks of doing business in an increasingly uncertain and volatile world. All key themes identified by businesses as being central to ensuring we deliver on our commitment to achieve a 2oC economy.

At the Smart Growth Summit ‘Collaborative Action’ was identified as both the biggest opportunity and potentially the biggest challenge in achieving a prosperous, low-carbon, 2oc economy. So for everyone who has to part to play in making their business more sustainable and responsible, I hope that together we can take action, collaborate, and keep human aspects at the forefront.

I hope that we can work together to make better lives, better experience, and better energy a reality. I invite other businesses and people who want to join this effort to do so.

Paul Spence is director of strategy and corporate affairs at EDF Energy

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