October 5, 2023
Global Sustainability Tax Lead, Ernst & Young
Dr. Amber Wellman
Chief Sustainability Officer, Chemours
Chief Innovation Officer, NiSource
Director, U.S. Government Affairs and Public Policy, AVEVA
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosted its 2023 Sustainability and Circular Economy Summit, bringing together sustainability leaders, policymakers, nonprofits, academics, and innovators to discuss businesses’ roles in sustainability.
Cathy Koch, Global Sustainability Tax Lead at Ernst & Young (EY), Dr. Amber Wellman, Chief Sustainability Officer at Chemours, and Donald Brown, Chief Innovation Officer at NiSource, spoke on barriers to innovation and the impact of digital technologies in accelerating that innovation.
Businesses Looking to Innovate Are Facing Challenges
EY has faced innovation challenges regarding its travel footprint and reducing Scope 3 emissions. Barriers like costs, material providers when scaling up, and permitting and regulatory issues, make it difficult to implement technologies.
“Getting involved in the policymaking process is really important. I can't tell you how many times … we found out a certain provision didn't even work or was more expensive to get the credit than it cost to qualify,” Koch explained. “Getting involved in the process, educating policymakers, and advocating for what you do is really important, and … will help increase stakeholder support.”
Koch added that government policies, specifically tax credits and incentives, are the primary drivers for innovation and have been seen as a successful influence on shaping the energy industry.
The Energy Industry Must Balance Reliability, Security, and Sustainability
One challenge that the energy industry faces is the ability to balance reliability, security, and sustainability. According to Brown, multiple criteria should be considered for a balanced approach when making investment decisions — which NiSource has modeled.
“Five years ago, we announced we were closing all of our coal generation plants by 2028,” he explained. “We established criteria upfront around reliability — looking at customer affordability, looking at jobs, and the impact on the local economy … [and] employees that worked at our company.”
Additionally, Brown noted that involving stakeholders and collaborating in the decision-making process is just as crucial in advancing sustainability goals. By being transparent and sharing all factors involved, businesses can help stakeholders understand why certain decisions are made.
Digital Technology Plays a Significant Role in Accelerating Innovation
Emerging technologies and digital transformation also play a role in accelerating innovation — especially when reducing environmental impacts.
As an example, Wellman mentioned a “two-phase immersion cooling” which can significantly enhance energy efficiency in data centers and decrease water consumption to save on costs.
“[These technologies] can enable us to make smarter decisions around running our production assets — not just for product performance, but for energy efficiency and for decarbonization goals,” Wellman said. “[And they advance] the way we communicate with each other, the way we have access to and make decisions with data. Everyone across the company can really see the impact of digital tools, and that extends to our customers as well.”