By Ajay Kasarabada, Luke Oehlerking and Brian Sifton
When Kenyan marathon great Eliud Kipchoge crossed the finish line at 1:59:40 in Vienna in late 2019, crashing through one of sport’s once-unbreakable barriers by covering the distance in less than two hours, skeptics pounced. He had help, after all: There were no competitors. He picked just the right day, with just the right conditions. Handpicked world-class pacesetters ran the road with Kipchoge, forming a protective bubble around him to thwart drag. Nutrition was handed to him in stride.
But strip away those “advantages,” and what remained was a runner who needed everything his wiry frame could summon to average 4-1/2 minutes a mile for 26.2 miles. And, since it was Kipchoge’s second such attempt, anything slower than 1:59:59 would raise fresh debate about humankind’s physiological wall.
So what can Kipchoge’s feat teach us about sustainability and climate-proofing our world’s most essential resources? The parallels are plenty. Just as Kipchoge received critical support, companies need the intake of new technologies and renewables hardware that are falling in cost and growing in capability. And as Kipchoge needed pacers, enterprise organizations need partners who can help navigate the complex landscape of meeting their sustainable technology commitments while making it profitable.
Above all else, breaking through barriers requires a plan. Coaching. The right tools. Ongoing support.
Increasing global temperatures, catastrophic storms, frequent wildfires and agonizing drought cycles are setting off alarms about the future of our most crucial resources. And they’re driving urgent conversations about how organizations that haven’t been convinced of the value of enterprise sustainability can reverse course. Sustainability is the central question confronting the world’s critical human infrastructure, followed closely by “how” and “how much?”
For CEOs, chief financial officers and other organizational leaders who turn these questions over in their minds, it’s not that simple. Aligning the triple bottom line principles of people, planet and profit may sound idealistic, but are those things inherently in conflict?
The hard truth of enterprise sustainability is that return on investment (ROI) matters. Many corporate leaders perceive that sustainable enterprise development infrastructure — things like renewable energy, microgrids and smart water solutions — is costly. A clear trend found in Black & Veatch’s ongoing Strategic Directions report series — built on surveys of leaders across the power, water, telecommunications and commercial and industrial (C&I) sectors — is concern about the upfront cost of water and/or energy sustainable technology solutions.
For instance, a recent survey of commercial, industrial and manufacturing leaders found budget constraints and upfront costs as the top challenges to their enterprise sustainability aspirations, followed closely by regulatory environments and uncertainty around ROI.
When we asked that same audience to rank how they evaluate their approach to energy investments, sustainability ranked quite low against economic feasibility and quality of power — a strong signal that while leaders are outwardly interested in sustainability, they’re privately worried the numbers don’t add up.
Perhaps it’s time to recycle some old notions about the affordability of sustainable technology.
The most basic driving force behind new energy is the explosion of practical possibilities that new technologies create. Solar photovoltaic (PV) costs continue to fall, sitting below $1 per watt as of late 2019 and projected to decline by at least 10 percent over the next five years. Battery storage prices also are dropping, and the Internet of Things (IoT) is delivering new ways for system operators to leverage data analytics to better understand their networks and equipment and find anomalies before they become outages or leaks.
2019 and projected to decline by at least 10 percent over the next five years. Battery storage prices also are dropping, and the Internet of Things (IoT) is delivering new ways for system operators to leverage data analytics to better understand their networks and equipment and find anomalies before they become outages or leaks.
Every day, we’re working with clients to determine how best to leverage and apply technologies such as hybrid power generation, locally reliant microgrids and more to create win-win situations that simply weren’t options before now. Many of those clients have big plans. But with budgets and shareholder value at stake, they understandably start small.
So, where do you start?
Bringing the pieces together can appear overwhelming. And admittedly, solar arrays, wind farms and microgrid projects aren’t simple plug-and-play applications — but meeting sustainability goals is a compelling reward, with benefits that often ripple outward.
After completing thousands of successful and innovative projects, we know success is a function of being able to balance three different contributions:
- Planning and execution.
- A big-picture view and an eye for details.
- Deep knowledge of legacy systems and the newest technology.
It was this kind of start-small, think-big approach that recently led to one of the largest, enterprise-level sustainability programs ever undertaken. Black & Veatch recently helped one of the world’s largest and most influential financial institutions implement an ambitious renewable energy program — which included the adoption of local distributed solar, at scale — to meet its 100-percent renewable energy goals.
This institution understood that sustainability is a long play, and it understood the advantageous business impacts of a long-term, programmatic approach to renewable energy, including lowered costs and operational resilience. Most of all, it recognized the advantages of meeting the rising demands of the marketplace, where customers and clients are considering sustainability commitments as they make choices about their energy consumption and with whom they do business.
The project, which included the full life cycle of distributed rooftop solar and microgrids, became an end-to-end relationship that included everything from project development, program management, engineering, procurement and construction to operations and maintenance of the systems. By the time the program is completed, it will be one of the financial sector’s most emphatic endorsements of the viability of renewable energy and sustainable technology.
Larger organizations are the ones most likely to have established enterprise sustainability goals and associated performance metrics. Responses to our C&I survey found that the smaller the organization, the less likely it is to have sustainability benchmarks in place. Among those organizations setting sustainability goals, roughly half were tied to energy and water use combined.
The range of tools for meeting sustainability goals has never been so robust. Today’s sustainable enterprise development options range from renewable energy, microgrids and battery storage to hydrogen fuel cells and the electrification of fleets and heavy-duty vehicles. Tomorrow likely will see technologies such as advanced carbon capture and electrified air transport. But it’s important to remember that sustainability starts with a plan -- one that factors in cost and stakeholder value — as well as how sustainability investments are monetized and measured. For instance, are there verification systems in place to give you credits or digital currency that can be traded with others to generate revenue?
Sustainable enterprise development plans also must consider the larger societal imperative of enterprise sustainability. A recent report from The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change revealed the planet has until 2030 to “bend the curve” related to atmospheric carbon and methane emissions.
There are opportunities for businesses of all sizes to make progress with sustainable enterprise development, regardless of where they are on their journey to sustainability, whether it’s piloting new programs, scaling up existing programs or increasing their ambitions as sustainable technology solutions continue to come down in price.
Every big change happens with a plan, a small start and the right tools. Are you ready to get started?
About the Author
Ajay Kasarabada is a client services leader for industrial and institutional clients within Black & Veatch’s power business. Kasarabada has been with Black & Veatch for 20 years and is experienced in managing consulting engineering projects for clients in power, renewable energy, energy-intensive industries and distributed generation. Prior to joining Black & Veatch, he worked for the Missouri Air Pollution Control Program.
Luke Oehlerking is Manager of Commercial Solar with Black & Veatch’s global distributed energy team. He has led the development of innovative business areas focused on energy storage, microgrids and residential and commercial rooftop solar. He actively works with clients to help them meet their sustainability goals with a variety of on-site or distributed solar photovoltaic, energy storage and microgrid solutions.
Brian Sifton is a member of the Growth Accelerator, Black & Veatch’s corporate innovation group. Working at the intersection of sustainability, strategy and innovation, he manages the company’s corporate sustainability program and strategic vision. Sifton also manages Black & Veatch’s annual programming for “intrapreneurs” — employees passionate about innovation in sustainable infrastructure, who receive the resources, training and coaching necessary to pilot new businesses at Black & Veatch.