Sustainability and the preservation of natural resources have become more and more relevant. Problems with the energy supply, water supply, and greenhouse effect are some of the reasons that have brought the concept of Triple Bottom Line to the corporate board, in addition to government leaders and nonprofit organizations. Investments in more efficient and less harmful processes are now paramount. This way, companies may in fact put into practice the sustainability tripod, contributing to the planet and to society in general, in addition to reducing its own costs.
In this article we discuss the concept of Triple Bottom Line and how energy efficiency may contribute to each of the pillars of sustainability towards tangible changes in society.
What is Triple Bottom Line?
Triple Bottom Line, sometimes called tripod of sustainability, or even 3Ps of sustainability, denotes the concept that sustainability must integrate environmental, social, and economic aspects, so that the results of a company may be evaluated by the market and by society in complete fashion.
The three Ps of sustainability mean:
-Planet: corresponding to environmental aspects;
-Profit: referring to the economic profit of an organization;
-People: encompassing the benefits to society in general.
The concept, created in the 1990s by John Elkington, co-founder of the nonprofit organization SustainAbility, advocates measurable, tangible results, analyzing the impact of the actions of a company, organization or nation to the world.
How can energy efficiency contribute to sustainability?
Thinking about energy efficiency has become so relevant that energy is now a permanent discussion topic at the G8 and G20 international groups. The expansion in energy consumption has a number of negative side effects, such as the depletion on natural resources used to generate it. Energy transportation and consumption cause significant impact on the environment, therefore the need to discuss and stimulate energy efficiency.
Energy and utilities management, when properly executed by a corporation, become a fundamental tool to put sustainability into practice and reach desired results. Below, we highlight the main benefits that energy efficiency may generate for each of the three sustainability pillars.
Benefits to the Environment (Planet)
Reduced water consumption: according to the United Nations, industrial activity is responsible for 22% of the consumption of water in the world. Good utilities management enables companies to become more efficient and reduce water consumption. In addition, utilities management also includes water treatment, reducing contamination and pollution in rivers and other water bodies.
Reduced energy consumption: the ultimate objective of an energy efficiency project is to reduce consumption of inputs such as electricity, oil, coal, natural gas, etc. This reduction not only saves costs, but reduces the impact of energy generation and transportation.
Reduced greenhouse gas emissions: according to a report published by United States Environmental Protection Agency- EPA, burning coal, natural gas, and oil to generate electricity and heat represent 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions. When energy consumption is reduced, so are the emissions of greenhouse gases.
Benefits to the Company (Profit)
Reduced costs: when the company invests in energy efficiency, it is possible to avoid waste, optimize its energy matrix, and reuse energy byproducts. All these factors lead to a direct, measurable result: reduced costs.
Visibility through ISO 50,001: the structures necessary to apply the concept of Triple Bottom Line are similar to those required to promote the continuous improvement cycle for energy efficiency, as proposed by the ISO 50,001 standard. There is synergy between the two initiatives. Obtaining the certification institutionalizes energy efficiency activities and brings significant visibility of the company to society.
Benefits to Society (People)
Avoids water shortages: according to ecologist José Galizia Tundisi, from the International Institute of Ecology, "in the last fifty years, the world population has tripled while water consumption has grown 6 fold". Given this scenario, the risk of water shortages has increased and investments in energy and utilities efficiency have become paramount.
Well structured energy efficiency projects directly impact on water consumption and savings. Using this resource well, in addition to reducing costs, mitigates risks of water shortages to the population.
Avoids energy shortages: many countries face challenges in their energy supply. This scenario is caused by different reasons, from climate change, in the case of hydro-generated electricity, to natural disasters.
Energy shortages directly affect the productivity of a country, and may bring serious consequences such as food shortages, recession, and economic crises. When corporations invest in energy efficiency, they contribute to reducing the risk of energy shortages in their locations.
Eases the transition to a renewable energy matrix: the continuous use of fossil fuels in the world has caused big environmental problems and brought renewable energy sources to the discussion, such as wind or solar.
Triple Bottom Line is a facilitator to speed up the transition to a new energy matrix. The results of this transition are the reduction of greenhouse gases emissions and the operational risks inherent to other sources of energy such as nuclear power plants. The utilization of renewable energy sources is an irreversible trend that will keep on growing worldwide over the next years.
Placing sustainability at the center of corporate strategy using tool such as Triple Bottom Line is more than a matter of image. It is capable of creating direct benefits for the company as well as for the environment and society.