Improving circularity, social inclusion and biodiversity at the second largest public service in the world
In many ways, the transition from a linear “take-make-waste” economy to a more sustainable economy is already underway. As companies begin to understand that an economy based on renewable resources and circularity is good for business, they have largely become guardians of sustainability. It is no longer possible to ignore the risks of climate change or biodiversity loss, and there is a growing cultural awareness of the importance of the planet for human well-being. Likewise, businesses are beginning to recognize the importance of diversity and inclusion in order to increase productivity, differentiate themselves from competitors, improve communities, and reach customers in vulnerable conditions.
But, as more people continue to move to urban areas, the population ages, and production and consumption continue to grow, innovative methods are needed to meet the new sustainability challenges that arise.
AT Columbia Climate SchoolIt is Sustainability Policy and Management Research Program, we seek to address these challenges by researching and developing methods to overcome barriers to institutionalizing sustainability in the day-to-day management of organizations. Directed by steven cohenwho also leads the MS in Sustainability Management (a partner program of the School of Climate), this research program focuses on organizational innovation, public policy initiatives, and sustainability measurement and management. Currently, we are working in partnership with a company that also works in this area: Enel X Global Retail, the global business and energy transformation branch of Enel Group, the Italian multinational electricity producer and distributor and the second largest utility company. in the world. Enel X’s products and services include smart home energy management solutions and home photovoltaic panels for consumers; energy storage, demand response, energy management systems and photovoltaics for businesses; and helping to build sustainable cities through resources such as electric buses and smart lighting.
During a five-month study, the research program reviews the Sustainability Building Program, a new evaluation and innovation framework aimed at identifying opportunities for products to improve their performance in terms of circularity, social inclusion and biodiversity. Existing methods of defining, measuring and operationalizing sustainability are broad and have largely lacked mainstream acceptance due to differing interpretations of sustainability itself. In order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals at all levels, finding a way to accurately assess and track sustainability will be crucial. The Enel X framework offers a specific set of metrics and a process for measuring and then improving different aspects of product and service sustainability, and they hope their model will become a playbook for businesses across all industries.
Discussing why the Enel X frame was originally created, Nicola Tagliafierro, Global Sustainability Manager at Enel X and First Mover Fellow of the Aspen Institute, said, “Sustainability is not an end point. , but a progressive path that needs measures to be followed with credibility and effectiveness. For this reason, we have activated a continuous improvement program applicable to each solution in the product portfolio, the Enel X Sustainability Boosting program. It is based on three levers: circular economy, social inclusion and biodiversity, and, thanks to the innovative process, it is able to measure, research and implement improvements capable of bringing both commercial value and product durability. »
As part of the study, our research team compares the reinforcement program to publicly available product-level sustainability measurement frameworks that have been adopted or offered across a wide range of entities, including competitors and other vanguards in sustainability. We also draw on a large number of case studies from another ongoing project of our group that collects case information on companies’ efforts to integrate environmental sustainability into their organizations.
With the help of Jackey Shen, research assistant and MS in Sustainability Management graduate, the research program has built a benchmarking database consisting of more than 60 corporate executives, 10 international or national regulatory executives, nine executives from consultants and non-governmental organizations, and 15 publication proposals peer-reviewed academics. Using this extensive database, we hope to answer the following key questions: (1) how do Enel X’s product-level sustainability measures compare to those implemented by some of the most important world leaders in industry such as Toyota, Alphabet, Shell, as well as dynamic startups; (2) whether Enel X measures are broad enough to cover all dimensions of some of the most comprehensive sustainability regulatory frameworks such as the Environmental Footprint of European Commission Products; and (3) how the Enel X framework compares to what the academic community has conceptualized and proposed, and what various NGOs and consulting firms have implemented.
To ensure that the metrics of the different frameworks we compared are comparable, we separated sustainability metrics into environmental metrics (including biodiversity) and social inclusion metrics, each with a list of dimensions. This “master list” of environmental and social dimensions standardizes terminologies and measures a product’s inclusivity or accessibility by all population groups (instead of other social contributions a company may strive to corporate level, such as donations for disaster relief or financial support for education).
Beyond scoring their products, the Enel X framework also follows a formalized process to identify opportunities for improvement that consider environmental, community and market needs, then test and implement the selected opportunities. Silvia Ruta, Head of Sustainability Initiatives and Circular Economy Competence Center at Enel X, added: “To achieve ambitious results, it is essential within organizations that everyone contributes, and this is even more true when the objectives relate to sustainability. This requires bringing people with different skills and backgrounds to the same table and enabling them to integrate innovation and sustainability expertise with business and technical know-how. By facilitating collaboration between them, we create new solutions capable of meeting social, environmental and economic objectives.
Columbia’s research team, which includes Satyajit Bose And Dong Guo, will ensure the transparency of this framework by carrying out an in-depth review of the program, and will also make recommendations to strengthen it. According Christopher Meinrenken, a principal investigator at the Columbia Climate School who is leading the project with expertise in life cycle assessment, energy systems and enterprise-scale product analysis, “Our research team is still looking at some of the details of the product-level assessment system, including compatibility with pending frameworks such as the European Commission’s Product Environmental Footprint. What we have already noticed is that Enel X’s stakeholder engagement process to further improve each product, whether it is an electric bus or an integrated charging station with streetlights, is significantly sturdier than what we see from most other companies.
With this review, Enel X Global Retail will join the long list of companies that the sustainability policy and management research program has worked with in the past, such as Siemens, Nike, Colgate-Palmolive, PepsiCo, Philips China, Tencent and State Grid Corporation. from China, and will also contribute to the body of academic literature on sustainability management and innovation.