For many businesses, sustainability has moved well beyond a “green” objective. Corporate leaders are challenged, not just to meet the expectations of key stakeholders and employees, but also the communities and societies in which they operate. Increasingly, companies are making strategic decisions about how they can implement corporate sustainability practices into their business processes and operations to achieve these objectives.
Enel Group's Green Power North America (EGP-NA) is an example of a company that is working to embed environmental, social and economic sustainability into processes along the entire value chain. Central to the company’s commitment is the proactive identification and management of relationships with the communities in which it operates.
Develop community relations
For energy companies, earning its social license to operate can present significant challenges. By recognizing that local communities have different priorities and characteristics, energy companies can seek to move beyond simply meeting expectations. This can be achieved not just through the efficient and responsible operations of the plants, but through other community-based initiatives. These efforts can, in turn, help to improve siting efficiencies and reduce barriers to entry in new markets or enable easier expansion in markets where a company has a positive relationship with the community.
Understanding that addressing the needs of each community and locale can look very different, EGP-NA works with community stakeholders to identify common challenges -- i.e., a community issue that may also be an operational problem -- and tries to solve these matters through shared solutions.
Some examples include:
- During the development of EGP-NA’s Aurora solar project, a 150 MWdc distributed solar facility across 16 sites in Minnesota (US), the company addressed concerns about the use of farmland for the siting of the project by working with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to create a robust agriculture and vegetation management plan that will result in one of the first pollinator-friendly solar projects in the country. When fully implemented, native vegetation will equate to approximately 500,000 pollinator-friendly home gardens and will help preserve and protect the farmland throughout the life of the project. In addition, EGP-NA is also exploring how the addition of shaded vegetation may help increase solar production by cooling the panels to allow them to produce more energy. Therefore, this solution is expected to benefit both the community and EGP-NA.
- Another example can be seen through EGPNA’s initiatives in North Dakota (US). Tioga, home to EGP-NA’s Lindahl wind farm. Recently, the city developed a goal to become the state’s Energy and Innovation Capitol and to diversify its energy supply. The community and EGP-NA hosted a drone camp for children in the area to inspire the next generation of innovation leaders. As EGP-NA explores commercial drone applications in the operations and maintenance of its plants, promoting and sharing drone technology and the vocational opportunities in the rural communities where the company operates is of strategic importance.
Create shared value
EGP-NA has adopted a “creating shared value” framework for implementing sustainable business strategies for all stakeholders. With the creation of shared value, the company seeks to address and incorporate social issues as business opportunities so that value creation for the company and the community are tied together.
Enel Green Power Chile, another subsidiary of the Enel Group, worked with the local community and the SEMBRA Association to develop a shared solution to a problem – economic development in the region. EGP Chile trained 40 people from two communities near their wind farm to create Ecofurniture from the wooden pallets and other materials that would have been thrown away from the site. Over 327 pieces of furniture, which are housed in the Enel Green Power Chile Operations and Maintenance building, were created from 1,200 pallets of waste from Enel Green Power Chile plants. This initiative helped to offset the cost of waste disposal from the construction site, while also creating two local small businesses that served as a boost to the local economy, thus simultaneously creating shared value for both the company and the community.
Where to start
Achieving long-term objectives through sustainability initiatives may include operational efficiency, local economic development and educational advancement opportunities. A shift in mindset and alignment with business strategies is the first step to achieving shared value objectives. As energy projects move closer to people, it’s important to understand how to integrate into each community in a way that delivers shared value for all stakeholders.
Written by Marcus Krembs, Director of Sustainability at Enel Green Power North America