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Interview with Zoisa Walton

Director of Business, Octopus Energy

Green energy suppliers have to tell the sustainability story in a more engaging way in order to correct the misconception that renewable power is unaffordable for SMEs (Small to Medium Enterprises).

Not that long ago, some members of the business community had mixed feelings about sustainability. Yes, they knew that green strategies were good for the planet, but they also thought they were expensive to implement and therefore only available to corporates that had the money and manpower to invest in them.

Thankfully, that thinking is changing, says Zoisa Walton, Director of Business at green energy provider, Octopus. Many SMEs are now starting to understand that going green will save the earth — but that doing so won’t cost them the earth.

Customers are demanding sustainable practices

There’s another reason sustainability has risen to the top of many organisations’ agendas: their customers demand it. “That’s the single biggest motivating factor we see among the businesses we supply with green energy,” says Walton.

“Take some of the coffee shops we work with, for example. Their customers expect them to source their beans ethically and use recycled materials and green energy. We also know that consumers are more likely to buy from a sustainable business rather than a non-sustainable one.”

How small businesses can achieve 100% sustainability

Walton points out that green energy is just as affordable as brown energy these days. She also advises any business to review how it consumes energy to pinpoint where it might make savings. Small efficiencies can ultimately make a big difference.

At one end of the scale, this involves obvious measures, like turning lights off and using energy-saving bulbs. “Then there are smart meters that help businesses understand their energy use and how they can spend less on it,” she says. “If SMEs aren’t using meters, they should definitely consider doing so.”

There are, however, more creative ways for SMEs to achieve 100% sustainability, notes Walton. For instance, Octopus has been fascinated by the trend of corporates buying renewable power from wind farms, but felt that SMEs — that are not operating with the same big budgets — should be able to do the same.

“Energy tariffs should be meaningful, customer-friendly and affordable to allow businesses to give back to the local community,” she says. “It should be available to every organisation, from small businesses right up to large corporates and have the ability to make a real difference.”

Case study: giving back to the Leicester community

The company settled on Leicester, where it had recently opened an office, and created a new tariff (called Leicester Business Power) that would provide local businesses with affordable, 100% renewable energy from a nearby 5MW solar farm.

For every business signing up to the tariff, Octopus promised to donate £25 to Charity Link, a local organisation supporting those in Leicester experiencing poverty, hardship and crisis. Plus, for every 25 business sign-ups, the company promised to plant 25 trees in the local area.

Pupils from a local school — Spinney Hill Primary — helped design the tariff’s logo. “Everything about the plan is Leicester centric,” says Walton. “The energy is created in Leicester, used by Leicester businesses for the benefit of Leicester, and even the logo for the tariff was designed by Leicester schoolchildren. The response to it has been overwhelmingly positive, too, attracting hundreds of businesses.”

Telling the sustainability story in a different way

Walton insists that joining such tariffs should be easy. It mustn’t require infrastructure or other outlays and each business should be given tailored information about the amount of carbon that is offset as a result of their decision to go green.

“Anything that makes results more tangible — to prove it has a real purpose and isn’t some kind of corporate exercise — is helpful,” she says. “I think our Leicester tariff shows that it shouldn’t be about ‘persuading’ businesses to go green. It’s about suppliers thinking more creatively so that businesses can go green more easily. We have to tell the sustainability story in a different way in order to correct the misconception that buying green energy is more expensive. Because, if businesses can operate in a responsible way at affordable prices that will protect the world for future generations, why wouldn’t they do so?”

For further information please visit octopus.energy/business

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