Shifting attitudes will drive energy sector sustainability

By James Richardson, Baker Hughes

photo: Baker Hughes
photo: Baker Hughes

People-centric approach is required to embed climate goals into industry culture, writes James Richardson, commercial director for UK decarbonisation with energy technology company Baker Hughes.

The energy sector is experiencing a cultural shift in which sustainability and decarbonisation become embedded into the fabric of the industry, entering the same territory – and with the same level of penetration – as health and safety.

The journey mirrors changes in wider society, where reducing emissions increasingly dictates how we get from point A to point B, how we heat and power our homes, what goes in our shopping basket and where we go on vacation.

The energy sector is rightly stepping up to this challenge, committing to climate goals and helping to drive the transition to net zero by cutting emissions across oil and gas, backing renewables and low-carbon technologies, and investing in emerging technologies.

These commitments are just the start of the journey. Baker Hughes and others in the industry understand that change lies with individuals, and that the same people-centric approach that paid dividends in health and safety can shape attitudes to sustainability in the decades ahead.

Hard-won experience
The energy industry has long operated in an open environment in which challenges were welcomed and questions asked whenever standards could be improved, or were not being met, or where best practice might evolve. At Baker Hughes, Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) is built into everything we do and how we work – how we develop technology, deliver for customers, and recruit and develop our employees. Operating safely and responsibly is a constant conversation to examine best practices to ensure we are meeting our own stringent policies.

And the driving force is, importantly, not simply a mandate from the top-down: health and safety is everyone’s job, a shared responsibility from the bottom-up that encourages dialogue, ensures buy-in at all levels and results in ownership of the culture across and within companies and industry.

HSE successes – usually measured in “perfect” or “accident-free” days – are widely, and rightly, celebrated. And when there are innovations to be tested, lessons to be learned or experiences to be shared, that is prioritised under the same cultural philosophy.

Carbon Out
The same practices among employees – shared responsibility, open communication, challenges welcomed, solutions and successes celebrated – are now being developed and encouraged in relation to sustainability.

At Baker Hughes, we started our internal Carbon Out initiative in 2021 as part of a company pledge to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. The engagement program provides tools, a framework, funding and resources to engage our people in systematically reducing operational emissions.

The difference is already tangible. Our scope one and two emissions are down by 23% compared with a 2019 baseline, through a combination of energy efficiency, renewables and improvements across transport and facilities.

The creation of a sustainability culture requires commitment and investment in the resources used to quantify emissions, the toolkits necessary to evaluate impacts on technologies and operations, and the solutions that will drive decarbonisation.

A shifting landscape
The culture shift towards sustainability within the energy sector is also being driven by parallel changes across other sectors of the economy.

Finance and markets are increasingly requiring more stringent reporting on sustainability issues, not as a “nice to have” paragraph in an annual report but as a requirement to doing business.

In the UK, for instance, the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) have been adopted into law, establishing standards for governance and reporting that will apply to all large companies, pension funds and large investors.

The TCFD mechanism will by proxy extend to any project, anywhere in the world, supported by large UK finance. Similar measures are expected to be adopted in the shorter term in the EU, the US and other markets.

And as with health and safety, the supply chain whether large or small is fundamental to this culture change. Whether as a competitive edge, a requirement of doing business with established customers, or to meet national standards, there is only one direction of travel. Climate impacts will only be minimised through everyday decisions – product or material selections, transportation choices, technology adoption and such like. And these everyday decisions need deliberate support- by the energy industry, consumers and governments.

Consumer attitudes are also key. The sustainability label is increasingly driving choice and behaviour on the granular side of the equation, whether through purchases, investment choices or political action.

Success story
The energy sector knows from its experience of health and safety that change is not only possible, it can lead to long-term benefits, increased prosperity and alignment with the demands of wider society.

The journey to net-zero emissions is no different. The attitudes necessary to foster a culture of sustainability will be built from the bottom up, established by the men and women working at the leading edge of the transition required to decarbonise in line with global climate goals.

There will of course be challenges but the possible upsides are huge, both in terms of opportunity and achievement. Those who blaze the trails, who establish solutions, who implement the necessary innovations – they will be the success stories of tomorrow.

It starts with people, with initiatives like Carbon Out, and with the companies like Baker Hughes that have the experience, the expertise, the commitment and the scale required to facilitate an accelerated transition to net zero.

Sustainability is a collective responsibility, an acceptance that reducing emissions must underpin everything that all of us do, whenever we do it. Establishing that culture, embedding those values, is a key element in that journey.

Baker Hughes Commercial Director, UK Industrial Decarbonisation, James Richardson
Baker Hughes Commercial Director, UK Industrial Decarbonisation, James Richardson