The Pursuit of Innovation in Building Climate Sustainability II: Energy Efficiency Alliance for Industry

With realizing the significance of the region of South Asia and Southeast Asia in the battle against climate change, in part one of this series, the next step in our journey and my learning as an AIF Fellow was to understand the need and criticality of innovation as well as its pursuit in building climate sustainability. The basic fundamental of innovation, as I understand it, is an idea or even a thought that breaks deadends – very similar to the deadends we hit on the road while driving – a concept that breaks stagnancy and ensures growth. 

Roadblocks in the Battle Against Climate Change
As I explored the space of climate sustainability further, I realised that the globe today and humanity a whole, does face a dead-end or rather a range of roadblocks in its battle against climate change, primarily for three particular reasons that I could gather along in this journey:

A graphic stating the challenges and roadblocks in the battle against climate change as described in the following text.
Dead-end in the Battle against Climate Change: The Need for Innovation [Infographic by Mehar Jauhar | AIF W.J. Clinton Fellow 2020-21]

The first being a dilemma of compromising costs and lifestyles. At an individual level, we all at some point may have thought that if we are to move towards sustainable choices – we would have to make humongous changes to our lifestyles, and perhaps even spend more in terms of our daily expenditure. At the level of industries and companies, a majority still believe that environment conservation and economics are at loggerheads, that to become sustainable one has to compromise profits and increase costs. Hence, there is a critical need for ways, means and models, that eliminate the need of making a “compromise” on costs or lifestyles and make it rather attractive to opt-in for sustainable choices

The second being the fact that climate change almost always presents itself as a game of numbers thereby lacking the centrality of human emotions. The fact that is it difficult for us as human beings to relate or imagine the impact of the polar ice cap melting by a certain numeric quantity or a temperature drop years from now – given that it does not affect our current day to day operations, and more importantly, neither does it appeal to empathetic human sensitivities. Hence, there is a need to define the humanization of climate change and endeavour to bring the numbers to life

Thirdly, we think that our individual actions are just a drop in the ocean. “What is one wrapper thrown on the side of the road, one lazy morning of letting the water run while we brush our teeth, one day of excitedly taking new stationary back home in a plastic bag because there is nothing else available at the shop – going to change? How would such a micro-situated individual action cause any harm?” [1]. Institutions and organizations too, often claim, that just because their company policy is made more sustainable – it is not going to considerably save planet earth given that the rest of the ecosystem is still harming it. Hence, what we need is collective action, the feeling that we are moving towards a goal together, of which each of us is a vital cog – what we need therefore is an aggregation of actions, and interventions

In the context of such barriers, all of which lead to a lack of fighting spirit, ignorance and indifference in the battle against climate change – humanity is faced with a dead-end thereby leading to the urgent and imminent need for innovation

Bringing Innovation to the Battle Against Climate Change
As introduced earlier, being an AIF William J. Clinton Fellow 2020-21, I had the opportunity to serve with the Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC) which is presently implementing the Energy Efficiency for Alliance for Industry (E2 Alliance) Project, accelerated by P4G (Partnering for Green Growth and the Global Goals 2030), which aims to implement, scale and replicate innovative interventions to drive the adoption of energy-efficient interventions by industry in India, South and Southeast Asia. The aim of the project is not just to demonstrate success but also to look at the sustainability of interventions through market-based approaches and business models – critical and essential to the scalability of any effective solution. The energy-efficient nature of such interventions, their focus on the industrial sector and implementational emphasis in the regions of South and Southeast Asia can be understood in part one of this series of blogs here

Now before delving into how the E2 Alliance Project offers innovation to combat climate change – what do I mean by energy efficiency? To put it simply, it is one of the most critical pieces in climate change mitigation and implies improving the efficiency of every unit of energy used in industrial production, thus also reducing the overall energy consumption and cost of production. 

A graphic describing the target audience, project goal, innovation offering and expected results for the E2 Alliance for Industry Program.
Energy Efficiency Alliance for Industry (E2 Alliance for Industry) Program: Bringing Innovation to Climate Change [Infographic by Mehar Jauhar | AIF W.J. Clinton Fellow 2020-21]
  • Reimagining the Target Audience
    Through my journey, I understood that combating an issue such as climate change that intersects with a multitude of aspects of our lives – requires a reimagination of even the most conventional understandings of the development sector, so as to implement interventions that are multi-pronged and comprehensive in nature. Hence, who are we saving in this battle – or in developmental terms, what is our target audience? The target audience for my fellowship project was therefore an ecosystem as a whole rather than individual beneficiaries. The ecosystem comprising of MSMEs (given they constitute a majority of the industrial sector which in turn is the largest consumer of electricity in the world [2]), the workforce relying on such industrial units as their sole source of livelihood, as well as technology itself such as old conventional inefficiency motors that comprise a significant per cent of the energy used by the industrial sector. Hence, my fellowship project gave me the unique opportunity of working at the intersecting lenses of economics, environment and society. 
    A graphic showing the target audience of the fellowship project as described above in the form of an ecosystem.
    Target Audience for My Fellowship Project | E2 Alliance for Industry Program [Graphic by Mehar Jauhar | AIF W.J. Clinton Fellow 2020-21]

  • Project Goal & Innovation
    The goal of my project was to ensure the adoption of climate-resilient or climate-smart technologies (energy-efficient technologies) in South and Southeast Asia through innovative business models. The innovation lied in the approaches of demand aggregation and ease of financing including thorough capacity building activities thereby eliminating the barrier of financial “compromises”, generating awareness, and also ensuring collective and aggregated action. Specifically, the E2 Alliance is tackling critical barriers to energy efficiency through manufacturer engagement, affordability and financing, and policy. The project endeavours to advance the scaled adoption of energy-efficient technologies in India through the innovative demand aggregation-based model as well as unique financing mechanisms and ensure the regional dissemination of its learnings and experiences from India, to address the barriers as well as replicate successful financial solutions and business models in other South Asian and Southeast Asian countries. For regional dissemination and replication of these models, being the focus of my fellowship project, we strived to carve inroads into paving the way forward for industrial energy efficiency in South Asia and Southeast Asia. As a first step, it was important to study the region, for which an “Industrial Energy Efficiency Opportunities Assessment” was conducted of the industrial energy efficiency landscape in South and Southeast Asia, specifically – Bangladesh, Vietnam and Indonesia. Taking the findings of the assessment forward we conducted stakeholder conferences in Bangladesh, Indonesia and Vietnam, bringing together key players in the energy efficiency ecosystem from the respective countries – that offered valuable insights about the grassroot challenges and opportunities for implementing solutions to drive the energy transformation in the region. 

The learnings from the comprehensive research and primary stakeholder consultations were immense in painting a real and vivid picture of the potential of building the climate resilience of the region and the innovative solutions to be implemented towards that end.  Please stay tuned for the final part in the blog series to dive deep into the potential for industrial energy efficiency in South and Southeast Asia while also exploring the windows of opportunities that may be leveraged towards a climate sustainable future for the region.

References:

[1] Jauhar, Mehar. “Defining the Humanisation of Climate Change: An Endeavour to Bring Numbers to Life – AIF.” AIF, 23 Dec. 2020, https://aif.org/defining-the-humanisation-of-climate-change-an-endeavour-to-bring-numbers-to-life/.

[2] “Energy Outlook and Energy Saving Potential in East Asia 2019.” Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia – ERIA, 21 Sept. 2016, http://www.eria.org/publications/energy-outlook-and-energy-saving-potential-in-east-asia-2019/.

Mehar is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with Sustainable Communities India Private Limited in Pune, Maharashtra. For her fellowship project, she is developing innovative business models for accelerating the adoption of energy efficient technologies in India as well as South-East Asian countries. Growing up in various locations across India and exploring diverse cultures, Mehar believes in the importance of communication and adaptability for understanding the needs of different groups and strengthening them through sharing ideas, knowledge and creating cooperative communities. Through her interactions with vulnerable groups in conflict regions, she recognises the value of empowering communities and building their resilience to adversity by developing systems for sustainable livelihoods. Mehar began her career as a Policy Analyst at Swaniti Initiative with a focus on bridging the gap between the community, civil society organisations and parliamentarians, as well as delivering development solutions to strengthen democratic institutions. Over the past year, she has facilitated the policy engagement efforts of a network of grass-root organisations across India on issues surrounding human trafficking and protection of migrant workers. She has also conducted capacity building workshops for women artisans in North India with an aim to increase their market linkages. Her recent project gave her the opportunity to assist the State Government of Jharkhand to strengthen climate change resilience within the state and assess the absorption of returning migrant workers into large-scale employment programs such as MGNREGA. Serving as an AIF Clinton Fellow, Mehar endeavours to build her experience in the development sector as well as understand the nuances of designing and implementing scalable and sustainable projects that drive social impact. She is keen to learn and foster innovative approaches that create synergies between the goals of economic growth and environmental preservation. An avid reader, she is fond of writing poetry and enjoys playing the guitar.

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