People focus needed to drive green adoption

update Not enough to rely on economic incentives and initiatives to push sustainability, says Singapore's Energy Market Authority chief, who notes that being energy efficient needs to be more "personal, human-centric".

update SINGAPORE--Attitudes about the need for energy efficiency and sustainability can get a boost if the focus shifts toward people because trumpeting the economic benefits can only go so far in driving effective energy management in business and society.

This was one of the issues highlighted by Chee Hong Tat, chief executive of Singapore's Energy Market Authority, during his keynote at the Panasonic Eco Ideas Forum here Wednesday. Held for the first time in Asia-Pacific outside Japan, the forum is part of the Singapore International Energy Week, an industry event where public and private organizations discuss energy-related issues, strategies and solutions.

Chee said energy efficiency is one of the fastest, easiest and cheapest way to grow and strengthen an economy. Yet, for companies and consumers, there remains "a gap between recognizing the [economic] benefits and realizing those benefits".

This is why, despite the cost savings, not enough is being done to conserve energy, he noted.

He added that it is insufficient to simply raise public awareness and rely on economic incentives and initiatives to drive adoption. Being energy efficient, he said, needs to be more "personal, human-centric" without affecting the standard of living.

Martin A. Blake, executive director of energy and environmental management consultancy, The GreenAsia Group, concurred: "Just knowing there are savings doesn't help." Also a speaker at the forum, Blake is an adjunct professor of sustainable business development at both Griffith University and the University of Southern Queensland.

A "paradigm shift in consciousness" is necessary if businesses want to operate and people want to live their lives sustainably and to conserve energy, he told ZDNet Asia on the fringes of the event.

"You can build an energy-efficient building or drive an energy-efficient car, but the way you choose to occupy and live with it may not be that energy efficient," he noted.

Decisive action lacking
To help narrow the gap between recognizing the economic rewards and actually reaping them, Blake said a diagnosis must be conducted.

Similar to how someone "knows he's feeling ill but has to see a doctor to find out exactly what's wrong and put it right", the same goes for companies, he said. They know they can save themselves money by being more energy efficient and that calls for a methodical or metric-based way of using authentic datasets to identify "the what, where and how" to save the most energy costs, he explained.

For instance, if a company wants to save dollars on their air conditioning bill, they must first weigh various factors--from the cost of energy-efficient air conditioners, to the price of future electricity bills, and whether their existing air conditioning system is old and needs replacement. Only then can they come to an informed investment decision and take action, he said.

In other words, whenever a company is thinking about carrying out a green initiative or intervention, it has to look at the cross section of quantitative and qualitative data, as well as establish a business case analysis of the cost and benefits of that initiative, Blake elaborated. Essentially, this requires taking the marginal abatement cost (MAC) curve--originally conceptualized by research firm McKinsey in 2007 to measure the cost-effectiveness of carbon abatement strategies--to the enterprise sphere, he said.

The MAC curve outlines options an economy can tap to reduce pollution, including tools to obtain forecasts of carbon allowance prices.

Without such a granular approach, Blake said it is not surprising that companies find it difficult to come to a clear decision, for example, on whether investing in new green technology or equipment is a sound decision and will reap savings.

As a result, enterprises remain "indecisive", he said, adding that their green efforts stagnate and do not progress further.