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Watchdog :Sustainability key in effort to fight global climate change

Fred Kindle, president and CEO of Swiss-based industrial giant ABB, is a champion of sustainability in the business world.

Published on July 8, 2007

Helping customers save energy and minimise global climate change is one important way to achieve that objective and is now itself a big business worldwide.

For instance, China, with a GDP growth rate of 10 per cent per annum, is virtually building a new power plant per week due to its unrelenting demand for energy to power its fast-growing economy. In the case of Thailand, the Energy Ministry has recently announced an independent power producer scheme in which new power plants with a combined capacity of 40,000 megawatts could be added over the next 15 years.

Access to energy to power economic growth and environmentalists' efforts to save the climate are always in conflict, Kindle told me during a visit to Bangkok. As a result, ABB has made sustainability its chief corporate objective, defining this as the ability to balance economic success, environmental stewardship and social progress to benefit all stakeholders.

It's not just the environment that is cared for, but also employees, suppliers, communities and other stakeholders.

For instance, sustainability considerations determine how the firm designs and manufactures its products so that more energy can be saved, while reducing CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions that affect the global climate. These products include high-efficiency motors and variable-speed drives that save enough power every year to supply five million people, while cutting nearly 100 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, according to one study covering the firm's globally installed base of variable-speed drives.

Utilities and industries using all-in-one disconnecting circuit breakers instead of separate conventional technologies in power substations can cut CO2 emissions by more than 200 tonnes over the product's lifetime. As a manufacturing firm itself, ABB - with revenues of US$26 billion (Bt884 billion) a year - is also in the midst of a two-year programme to cut its own energy consumption by 5-per cent per manufactured unit, as its activities now release greenhouse gas emissions of around 1.7 million tonnes per year.

An electrical engineer by training, Kindle also cited the firm's Azipod propulsion systems, used in large cruise ships and cargo vessels, as another example of how the company promotes sustainability. This new type of motor can save 10-15 per cent on energy consumption compared to its predecessor.

In the industrial sector, energy saving is also key to increased productivity and competitiveness. For example, the cement industry in Thailand could cut 2-3 per cent off its energy bill via "process optimisation systems".

In a recent statement to stakeholders, Kindle noted: "We no longer have to make the business case for sustainability as it has already been made. Sustainability is key to our long-term business development and success, so we are working to end any separation, real or perceived, between the business and sustainability, which need to be indivisible."

Kindle said there were no "soft" issues in business any longer, given that environmental, social and human rights concerns must not be seen as issues affecting only a company's reputation. They are important in themselves and influence the bottom line.

Cleaning up old power plants has become another big business in the effort to minimise global climate change. For instance, an old plant near Rome is moving from the use of oil-burning power generators to coal-fired units, resulting in a net efficiency increase of 45 per cent while pollution is forecast to drop sharply (sulphur dioxide by 80 per cent; nitrogen dioxide by 60 per cent; carbon dioxide by 18 per cent and dust levels by 80 per cent).

In addition, wind energy is gaining popularity, especially when crude oil prices continue to surge to new record highs. For instance, Denmark, with its relatively small population. last year got 80 per cent of its electricity from wind power for a period of several hours when the first gales of the year struck the country in October.

With wind speeds of up to 20 metres per second, east and west Denmark enjoyed free electricity for this brief period, as power plants reduced output to balance consumption and production.

Nophakhun Limsamarnphun


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