future of sustainability

Sustainability for ABB:
a win-win approach

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Theodor Swedjemark
Chief Communications and Sustainability Officer

A Conversation with Theodor Swedjemark, Chief Communications and Sustainability Officer, ABB

What does sustainability mean to ABB?
ABB has been enabling sustainability for our customers for the better part of a century. In other words, sustainability is not a new focus for ABB. Embedding sustainability in everything we do is a key element of our company’s purpose and is fundamental to why we are in business.

For many organizations, being more sustainable first and foremost means addressing climate change, and with good reason: the Paris Agreement makes clear the world needs to halve its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 if we are to avoid planetary disaster. Given this urgency, the issue of emissions needs to be at the top of the sustainability agenda in order to take swift and decisive action.

We have to look at sustainability in a holistic, interconnected way.

However, we cannot approach the issue of greenhouse gases in isolation. We have to look at sustainability in a holistic, interconnected way that considers not only carbon emissions, but also the wider context, including how we can transition to a more circular economic model, and how we can help promote social progress. Empowering people and communities have to be a big part of how we think about sustainability. For ABB, that bears on everything we do as a company, ensuring we operate in a transparent, ethical way across our entire value chain.

For ABB, sustainability bears on everything we do as a company.

What are the main goals ABB is focusing on in terms of sustainability?
Can you share some specifics regarding CO2 reduction and renewables integration?

Along the lines of what I just described, ABB looks at sustainability in terms of three areas: enabling a low-carbon society, preserving resources, and promoting social progress.

ABB looks at sustainability in terms of three areas: enabling a low-carbon society, preserving resources, and promoting social progress.

With these three focus areas, our approach to driving sustainability reflects the old saying that “you can’t manage what you don’t measure.” Our goals can’t be generic. They can’t be vague statements. Instead, we have made them concrete, tangible, actionable.

As part of our Sustainability Strategy 2030, ABB has made clear public commitments in terms of our own operations and what we will enable for and with our customers and partners. By 2030, we have committed to being carbon-neutral and to using 100-percent renewable electricity in our operations globally. We will also shift our 10’000 strong vehicle fleet to electric and strengthen our energy management systems to improve energy efficiency at our sides. In terms of preserving resources, at least 80 percent of our products will be covered by a circularity arrangement and we’ll stop sending any waste to landfills. On social progress, ABB will double the number of women in senior management roles, ensure safety of our employees and contribute to community-building around the world. These are a few examples of the key indicators on which we are focused.

... the equivalent of removing 30 million combustion cars from the world’s roads.

What’s game-changing: ABB will help our customers to reduce their annual CO2 emissions by more than 100 megatons by 2030, the equivalent of removing 30 million combustion cars from the world’s roads.

How can ABB’s technology products and services help customers and partners to be more sustainable?
ABB is an exciting place to be right now because we straddle some of the most important technology mega-trends. Electric vehicle charging. Smart cities. The industrial Internet of Things. Robotics. Artificial intelligence. Energy-efficient motors and drives. These are just a few of the areas where we are making major strides, innovations that will be instrumental in helping our customers address the transformational opportunities in front of them. We continuously push the technology frontier to the horizon and beyond with our customers to make things possible that were not possible before.

Our firmly held belief, however, is that technology alone isn’t enough. We need to empower the entire industrial workforce and people everywhere with the knowledge and tools to apply technology to improve how we work and live, to make good decisions that will benefit the planet and all its inhabitants.

From your point of view, how can a commitment to sustainability help the business performance of a company?
It’s increasingly difficult to separate sustainability and business performance. In fact, I would say we can no longer conceive of these as two distinct or competing priorities. For me, improving sustainability means improving business performance.

Improving sustainability means improving business performance.

That’s another reason it’s so exciting to be part of ABB today—the solutions we market help our customers to improve outcomes on sustainability and the bottom line simultaneously. For example, the variable speed drives we manufacture can help industry reduce its energy consumption by as much as 25 percent. Reducing the energy inputs needed to power industrial motors is beneficial for the environment but also for operating costs. There’s no tradeoff there, as in, “We could be more sustainable. Or we could be more profitable.” When you can make both of those things happen at once, that is what creates a balance between environmental, economic, and social needs.

Sustainability has become a trendy topic all over the world. However, there is a risk of perceived “green washing.” How does ABB address this?
With the increased priority our societies attach to sustainability, it’s understandable that claims from organizations around sustainability may be met with healthy skepticism. But I come back to two earlier points I made: first, we have to focus on measurability as this makes impacts visible. If we can measure, we can manage. We want to create transparency and accountability for our stakeholders — investors, customers, partners, employees, the communities in which we operate.

Companies that look to ABB don’t have to make tradeoffs between sustainability and financial gains.

Second, when it comes to the products and services we market, companies that look to ABB to enable more sustainable operations don’t have to make tradeoffs between sustainability and financial gains. If we can help to optimize the amount of energy you use in your data center or in your ship’s propulsion, that’s an environmental win combined with an economic win. If we can help a local utility in a water-stressed community to prevent leaks in infrastructure and decrease water loss by 20 percent, that’s a win-win environmentally and economically. If we can put sensors on drones so they can analyze gas pipelines and reduce harmful emissions and protect employees from performing hazardous manual inspection tasks – and do it for less money – that’s a win-win-win!

These capabilities represent real progress for ABB, our customers, and our communities.