Why sustainability is a win-win

Stephen Wheeler

IT'S the time of year, when stories of generosity and charity remind us all of the importance of giving back. It's part of what makes the festive season so special for so many of us. But as a company embedded in communities across Northern Ireland, we know that doing the right thing isn't just for Christmas.

When it comes to sustainable business practices and corporate social responsibility (CSR), it's no longer enough for companies to simply 'abide by the rules' or engage in isolated acts of philanthropy. The stakes are just too high, and customers and communities are rightly demanding more. Companies have to continually demonstrate what they're doing to be ethical, responsible and balanced in their operations. This is especially true for an energy company.

For SSE, the most obvious aspect of our sustainability strategy is how we're meeting our environmental obligations, taking action on climate change and steering the transition to a low-carbon society. On this front, we're immensely proud to be Northern Ireland's leading renewable energy generator, offsetting harmful carbon emissions and powering homes and businesses with greener electricity.

We need to embrace a new economy for this century that ends our outmoded dependency on traditional fuel sources and technologies, in pursuit of a new, low-carbon, green energy ambition for Northern Ireland. Earlier this year, SSE announced our ambition to reduce the carbon intensity of our electricity production by a further 50 per cent by 2030, based on 2017/18 levels, in line with the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

It's not just about the large-scale economic and environmental impacts though. It's clear that the success of our business comes down to the relationships built and grown in the communities in which we operate. Last year SSE opened new community funds for the recently-constructed Tievenameenta and Slieve Divena II wind farms in Co Tyrone, as well as celebrating the award of the 100th SSE Airtricity Scholarship for students progressing to third level education.

In 2018 SSE became a signatory to the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), the world's largest corporate sustainability initiative with over 9,800 business and non-business participants across more than 160 countries. By incorporating the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact into our strategies, policies and procedures, we want to set the stage for long-term, sustainable success.

But as lovingly crafted as a sustainability strategy might be, it's no good if the people in an organisation aren't behind it. Through SSE's employee-led 'Be the Difference' programme, all team members are entitled to take at least one day a year away from their day job to volunteer for a charity or community group of their choice.

As well as giving colleagues a chance to give back, the programme has a number of benefits for the business and volunteers. The volunteering days serve as great team-building and networking opportunities, and taking time away from the day job to contribute to a worthy cause can help employees recharge while boosting their pride in our company.

While corporate sustainability might seem like a new phenomenon, for us it represents one of the oldest concepts in business – the ‘win-win'. It's up to us to take our responsibilities seriously, and do all we can to help achieve economic, social and environmental wellbeing for current and future generations.

:: Stephen Wheeler is managing director of SSE Ireland

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