U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy

The U.N. SDGs are driving governments, individuals, universities, and businesses to adjust their practices to achieve benchmarks and secure a sustainable future by 2030. Incorporating SDG 7 “Affordable and Clean Energy”, into your business will empower you to tackle the unique challenges of energy insecurity, increase self-reliance, reduce your carbon footprint and show your customers you prioritize the needs of all.

What is SDG 7?

Energy is at the center of almost every major challenge and opportunity the world is facing to increase income equality, create more jobs, and take actions towards climate change. The world must transition to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all to move forward and embrace the opportunity to transform countries, communities, economies, and the planet.

Global Power Insecurity

In fact, 789 million people in the world lack access to electricity with 548 million of those in sub-Saharan Africa alone. Without access to electricity, women and girls spend the majority of their lives fetching water, gathering tinder and supplies, and  tending to cookstoves. Indoor air pollution from combustible fuel use for household energy caused 4.3 million deaths in 2012 with women and girls accounting for 6 out of every 10. Globally, 3 billion people rely on wood, coal, charcoal or animal waste for cooking and heating. The energy sector is the greatest contributor to climate change, accounting for roughly 60% of total global emissions. Further, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the importance of energy security to power healthcare facilities, run utilities and provide clean water, and support reliable communication.

These instances each reflect the urgency of investing in renewable energy technologies. As the global population rises and the global middle class expands, countries and industries are given a unique opportunity to leapfrog stages of development and avoid reliance on fossil fuels altogether. There is an additional focus on providing access to clean and safe cooking fuels to improve emissions, health, and quality of life. This requires collaboration with companies and national and local governments to prioritize making renewable energy technologies affordable and accessible.

Basic Tenets of SDG 7:

  • Improving global access to energy
  • Investing in renewable energy technologies
  • Improve access to clean fuels for cookstoves
  • Greater government and business cooperation

SDG 7 Targets

The UN has identified 5 targets and 6 indicators for progress in SDG 7. Many of these goals are scaled for national government implementation. However, they can still be applied to business practice on a smaller scale to show a demonstrated commitment to achieving sustainability.

Below are the most applicable targets and indicators for businesses:

  • Universal access to modern energy
  • Increase global percentage of renewable energy
  • Double the improvement in energy efficiency
  • Promote access, technology, and investments in clean energy
  • Where possible, assist in expanding and upgrading energy services for developing countries

Carbon Emissions and Energy Demand

The EPA has broken down the total U.S. GHG emissions by economic sector with transportation being the largest contributor at 28%, electricity 27%, and industry at 22%. The direct emissions in industry are associated with the consumption of fossil fuels for energy and production, chemical reactions during the production of chemicals, iron, steel, and cement, and leaks from natural gas and petroleum systems. Although these are the direct emissions related to industry, employees commute to work and businesses consume electricity in their operations which contribute to the overall emissions in the other two sectors.

Bill Gates excellently addresses this topic in his book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster. His biggest takeaway is he wants you to know two numbers: 51 billion and zero. The former is the number of tons of greenhouse gases typically added to the atmosphere each year as a result of human activities. The latter is the number of tons we need to get to by 2050 in order to avert a climate crisis.

Why is Affordable and Clean Energy Important for Business?

Affordable and clean energy ensures that modern society can operate smoothly and successfully. The current energy system built upon fossil fuels has allowed industries to flourish. However, it has also resulted in exponential environmental degradation and significant climate change. The private sector is responsible for ⅔ of the world’s electricity demand which is currently mostly sourced from harmful fossil fuels.

Businesses are in a key position to accelerate the transition to sustainable energy systems by investing in renewable energy technology, research and development, prioritizing energy efficiency, and adopting clean energy into their own practices. They can take a step beyond their own practices and invest in clean energy sources for their communities to ensure their employees and customers have access to renewable energy and even provide renewable technologies to developing countries.

Renewable Energy Options

On-Site Renewables

On-site renewable technologies are an excellent opportunity to create significant, immediate energy, reduce operating costs, receive tax credits in some cases, and provide some energy back to the community. This can directly and significantly reduce a company’s production and operation related emissions. In some cases, there are significant upfront costs associated with purchasing and owning on-site renewables but it often results in huge long-term savings.

Important considerations:

  • Is there room in the company budget to invest in on-site renewable energy? If not, how can the budget be adjusted to make these investments eventually?
  • Do you have a local green energy provider or an energy expert that can help you navigate your options and gain more knowledge?
  • Will a member of the company or an outside developer/contractor maintain the systems to ensure systems are operating properly?
  • Is there adequate space available? If so, what spaces can be utilized for renewables? E.g. rooftops, parking lots, open ground spaces

Off-Site Renewables

Off-site renewables are an option to fully fuel operations by renewables without the high initial and continued maintenance and operation costs. Oftentimes the greatest limiting factor with off-site renewable energy is proximity to transmission lines which determines overall cost and availability. In the long run, renewable energy suppliers will need to create more infrastructure to account for the growing demand for renewables, so making the investment now will lock a company in at a position of lower demand and lower cost. Be ahead of the curve and take advantage of today’s falling technology and electricity prices.

Important considerations:

  • Are off-site renewables the best option for your company? Consider your budget and on-site space.
  • What is the proximity to the closest renewable energy supplier? Will you have access to a nearby transmission line?
    • On-site may be a better option if transmission distance is substantial
  • What type of energy does the off-site source supply?
    • It’s best to consider all options and select the one with the lowest environmental impact.
  • Does incorporating off-site renewables fulfill your sustainability goals?

Affordable and Clean Energy Best Practices

Below are the best practices for affordable and clean energy business implementation:

  • Research best affordable and clean energy sources for your unique geographic location.
  • Commit to sourcing 100% of your company’s energy from clean energy sources.
  • Utilize the recent shift to remote work and encourage telecommuting days to reduce net energy demand.
  • Invest in further renewable energy research and development.
  • Provide priority parking spaces for electric vehicles to encourage reduction in fossil fuel demand and emissions.
  • Prioritize impact reporting and transparency to employees, customers, and stakeholders.

SDG 7 Implementation

Web Hosting Canada

Web Hosting Canada is a privately owned, Canadian web infrastructure company that runs thousands of energy-consuming computers to power thousands of websites and applications. They have made a commitment to put sustainability at the center of their business by avoiding fossil fuels and powering 100% of their cloud infrastructure with green energy. They firmly believe green should not just be a buzzword but an actual commitment to communicate their values, green initiatives, and to help consumers make informed decisions about the businesses they work with.

Beyond using green energy to power their data centers and business facilities, they also use effective virtualization to minimize the number of separate power-consuming servers needed to operate websites and applications, solid-state drives that use less than 15% of the power consumed by older hard drives, and natural cooling from outdoor air or water-cooling systems to minimize the need for central AC.

Learn more about Web Hosting Canada in our member story: Web Hosting Canada: This Company’s Cloud Infrastructure is 100% Powered by Green Energy

NM Group

NM Group is transforming the electricity industry with their commitment to green energy (SDG 7). NM Group uses computer-based analysis to determine transmission line integrity and onsite conditions. Improving the efficiency of the electricity network saves energy and improves large scale energy security. They are also an excellent example of expanding their sustainability mission throughout the community through employee engagement and outreach projects. They offer online webinars and virtual training for consultants, engineers, and line service managers. Additionally, through Community Canopy, NM Group funds tree plantings to help energy conservation and climate resiliency.

NM Group provides a great model for promoting energy security and how to incorporate multiple aspects of the SDGs into business practice. Though not explicitly stated as part of their company mission, NM Group’s efforts demonstrate a commitment to SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy, SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, SDG 13: Climate Action, and SDG 4: Quality Education.

You can learn more about the NM Group in their GBB Member Story: NM Group: Securing Energy Supply for a Greener Tomorrow.

Executive Summary

Business leaders, sustainability managers and green teams can find ways to incorporate SDG 7 into their business models and practices. Here’s a simple playbook for getting started:

  • Educate yourself, fellow executives and employees on SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy (U.N. SDG Overview).
  • Identify your company’s initiatives that are aligned with SDG 7 already.
  • Implement the most impactful initiatives. Green Business Bureau has over 400 to choose from including initiatives related to energy efficiency, renewable energy, waste management, green procurement, vehicle emissions, water conservation, and pollution reduction.
  • Set measurable targets to increase energy efficiency.
  • Report on progress routinely. Here’s a sample sustainability scorecard to keep track.
  • Communicate your company’s commitment to sustainability. You can reference SDG 7 for the initiatives related to affordable and clean energy
  • Lead by example. Be an ambassador in the business world for affordable and clean energy.

You may find that your company has already adopted initiatives that drive SDG 7 action. Educating yourself and your colleagues about the UN’s goals will help you identify which climate action targets are most appropriately aligned with your company’s processes. It is up to you to help turn your business into a platform for good and an example of taking climate action seriously.

About the Author

Leah Mowery

GBB Green Ambassador

Leah Mowery is a content writer for the Green Business Bureau who is passionate about using creativity and storytelling to relay the importance of sustainability. She served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nepal where she discovered a love for sustainable development. She fostered this interest in her Master’s in Global Sustainability program with a concentration in Climate Change at the University of South Florida. She enjoys painting, reading and all forms of outdoor recreation.

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