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Business embraces clean technology to increase sustainability



Large companies are becoming ever more involved in clean technologies as they find new sources of income by increasing sustainability and manufacturing more eco-friendly products.

Faced with the global challenges of climate change, energy efficiency and sustainability, many leading companies have taken steps to lessen environmental impact. By adopting clean technologies and new lines of environmentally-friendly products, enterprises are reducing their emissions and resource consumption, while also increasing employment.

While such actions have an obvious environmental benefit, they can also be a new source of income for the companies themselves. Thus, the challenge of creating new eco-friendly products and clean technologies presents an excellent business opportunity.

Strategies for sustainability

Adam Werbach, former president of the 1.3-million strong American Sierra Club environmental organisation, insists that coming to grips with global environmental issues is essential for corporate survival. Companies must incorporate cradle-to-cradle production techniques, which are not just efficient but essentially waste free. The development and execution of sustainability strategies can help companies cope with changes in the global economic climate by cutting costs and maximising resource efficiency.

Rather than ‘greenwashing’ or simply paying lip-service to the concept of being eco-friendly, corporations must introduce real measures to make themselves and their product range less environmentally damaging, and more conducive to a sustainable world. To this end, environmental strategies must take into account every dimension of the business environment. For this reason, a company’s social, economic and cultural impacts must also be addressed, in addition to their environmental impacts.

Car manufacturers, particularly in Europe, are becoming more conscious of sustainability and energy efficiency when designing new cars. Strong environmental and short-term economic pressures have led to a shift towards greener more economical cars. BMW, Daimler and Saab have invested heavily in research and development (R&D) on alternative fuel technologies.

Government support for a greener car industry

Moves made by the car industry to increase its involvement in clean technologies have been welcomed by European governments. In some cases, governments have responded to development of environmentally-friendly product lines by establishing infrastructure to support green industry.

In July 2009, Nissan announced plans to open rechargeable lithium-ion car battery plants in Portugal and the UK. Representing a five-year investment of €230 million, the UK move prompted the Regional Development Agency to declare North-East England the UK’s low carbon economic area. A new green infrastructure is set to develop in the area, including battery-charging points and a test track for electric cars as well as R&D facilities.

Nissan’s move to produce cleaner cars is not an isolated case. Already Toyota has announced plans to manufacture a new petrol-electric hybrid car in the UK. In the interests of climate change, Toyota hopes to persuade motorists to opt for low-emission cars rather than more economical diesel engines.

Beyond the electric car, the car industry is exploring a range of alternative clean technologies. The Honda FCX Clarity, to be powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, went on sale in 2009, while Saab and Volvo are continuing to develop biofuel engines, based on non-food based crops such as algae. Even high-end manufacturers are embracing clean technologies, with Koenigsegg launching a bioethanol option of its CCX super sports car.

Enlarging cleantech portfolios

Other sectors are also increasing their involvement with clean technologies in an effort to address their environmental impact. Over recent years, engineering conglomerate Siemens has added significantly to its cleantech portfolio. It is now involved in numerous clean-technology projects in a variety of sectors, such as: power generation; building and lighting; transportation; industry; water purification and air-pollution control.

The company has opened wind-turbine R&D centres in Germany, the Netherlands and the UK. It plans to launch a seawater desalination system which it believes will cut energy consumption by 50%. And it has a central venture capital organisation – Siemens Venture Capital (SVC) – through which investments are made in, among other things, early-stage technology companies. A particular focus is given to energy and industry sectors.

“Curbing economic growth and lowering people’s standard of living is not an option,” says Siemens president Peter Loescher. “The challenge is to maintain high living standards and strong economic growth globally, while minimising the negative impacts on our environment.”

Clean technologies accounted for almost a quarter of Siemens’ overall revenues in 2007, and it believe this will grow. The company expects to generate €25 billion in revenues in 2011 from eco-friendly products and solutions, which it believes will reduce consumer CO2 emissions by 275 million tonnes – more than 5% of current EU CO2 emissions.

Global telecommunications giant Alcatel-Lucent has introduced environmental technologies into its operations. Through the development of cleaner systems, it has not only reduced its own environmental impact but also that of its customers. And the group has introduced design processes based on life-cycle assessments that evaluate the cradle-to-grave environmental impact of all its products.

In an effort to address the significant contribution the ICT industry makes to global emissions, Alcatel-Lucent has launched a range of energy-efficient wireless base stations for telecommunications networks that save consumers up to 40% in energy costs by modulating power consumption. It is also developing a base station that relies on passive cooling, instead of energy-consuming fans or air conditioning.

Such business involvement with clean technologies benefits both the companies themselves, and the world as a whole. Rising to the challenge of developing cleaner products and manufacturing systems allows companies to become more flexible, more innovative and ultimately more sustainable. And, by engaging with the clean technologies sector, it is providing them with the opportunity to make long-term profits. Moreover, the fact that the ingenuity and innovation of the corporate world is now being engaged to address the world’s environmental challenges is a benefit for everyone.

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