SMARTER, GREENER, HAPPIER
Sustainability is in Schneider Electric’s DNA. We speak to the digital, energy and automation giants’ MEA region, which has over 5,000 partners and 6,000 engineers, about why it believes an all-digital, all-electric world is required for a smarter and greener future
Project Director Richard Durrant // Author Daniel Brigham // Videographer Ewan Donaldson
Sometimes, it is easy for companies to talk a good game about sustainability. They can reel off targets, throw about buzzwords such as green energy and net-zero, and give anyone listening the impression that their attitude to the environment, and the future of the planet, should be celebrated. But, look a little deeper at what they are actually doing, and all too often the words sound increasingly hollow: all style and no substance.
Some companies, though, are different. They back their words up with actions. Schneider Electric, leaders in digital transformation of energy management and usage, is very much in that latter camp. It talks a good game, and plays an even better game. It is proud of its commitment to putting environmental and sustainability considerations at the forefront of not just its own practices but all the activities of its customers and partners.
For Schneider Electric, its style is met with substance. In 2005, it was an early adopter in tackling environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, and since then it has reviewed and improved those ESG commitments every three years. In January this year, Schneider’s consistent adherence to sustainability goals was rewarded by research company Corporate Knights, when it named Schneider Electric No.1 in its annual index of The Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations In The World.
Based on corporate sustainability performance, the award was testament to Schneider’s belief in a smarter, greener future. Corporate Knights acknowledged Schneider’s shift to leave high-voltage electrical distribution behind, to focus instead on data centres, off-grid solar storage, decentralised distribution and smart solutions. “The firm is at the heart of a megatrend that will define the global economy for decades to come,” they wrote.
We spoke to Amel Chadli, Vice President Strategy & Digital Energy for Middle East & Africa, and Aimen Abd-El-Azim, Digital Energy Channel Sales Leader, to talk about Schneider Electric’s sustainability values, why the future is all-digital and all-electric, the importance of being committed to Africa, and why the company should be the digital partner of choice for sustainability and efficiency.
Sustainability is everywhere when we work at Schneider, from our people vision to the core of our business. It’s a personal conviction and everyone is working hard to contribute to this fantastic journey”
Schneider’s sustainability values
Earlier this year, the company unveiled its Schneider Sustainability Impact (SSI) programme, which will span until 2025 and accelerate its own targets. It deliberately aligns with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, and is an addition to the work the company has already done over the 15 years since it first launched the Sustainability barometer. In the time since 2005, Schneider says it has saved its customers 120 million tons in CO2 emissions and given around 30 million more people much-needed access to energy.
The SSI has six long-term commitments across environment, society and economy. These six goals are backed up by 11 global targets as well as accompanying local targets. As part of its six long-term commitments, Schneider has set itself several major targets, including: saving 800 million tons of CO2 emissions for its customers, helping 1,000 of its suppliers to reduce CO2 emissions by 50%, and ensuring 80% of its revenue comes from green activities, providing 50 million people with access to green electricity and training 1 million underproveleged people in energy management.
Chadli: “The goal of these commitments is to respect the SDGs that were defined by the United Nations. First of all, we have to act for a climate-positive world by continuously investing and developing innovative solutions for decarbonisation. The second target is to be efficient with resource by behaving responsibly, and making the most of digital technology to preserve our planet. The third commitment is to live up to our principles of trust. We really want to build an environment where the trust is at the centre, with the highest social governance and ethical standards.
The fourth commitment is to create equal opportunities. That’s for all generations, and also between communities and between all people – no matter their beliefs, their religion, or their sex. The fifth commitment is to harness the power of all generations, and we want to invest in order to integrate the younger generation. We really believe that the young generation is very innovative, and they can help us in our fight against carbonisation. And finally the sixth commitment is to empower all local communities. We are present in more than 100 countries, where we employ from the local communities. We are working towards being the most global local company.”
Abd-El-Azim: “Now we move forward to achieve our targets, keep leading by example, with our own operation and ecosystem, and we work to be part of the solution with our partners and customers. And other large companies need to do the same as they will be key for improving awareness and for global collaborations. This is how we will succeed in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals for a better future.”
An all-digital, all-electric world
Artifical intelligence, IoT and Big Data are changing the way we work and live together. From homes to commercial real estate, Schneider Electric’s vision for the Buildings of the Future has sustainability at its core.
Chadli: “We have smart homes, smart buildings, smart manufacturing, smart infrastructure, and all of these are leading to smart cities. We are seeing a lot of development with new technologies.”
Abd-El-Azim: “Digital enables us to do more – much more – with less. It allows us to be more flexible, agile, inclusive, and resilient. Buildings of the Future depend on an all-digital, all-electrical world. It ramps up our interaction with our partners and increases the efficiency using digital tools, providing remote support to the end users through augmented reality tools.”
With the onset of big data, the IoT and artificial intelligence, we might find our cities begin to think like a human brain”
Chadli: “We are deeply involved in carbon neutral buildings. They are, for us, one of the pieces of the puzzle, because buildings currently account for around 30% of global emissions. So we are putting in place the Buildings of the Future, which will be more efficient, more resilient, and more digital and far more customer-centric.”
Abd-El-Azim: “With the onset of big data, the IoT and artificial intelligence, we might find our cities begin to think like a human brain. Right now we are entering a new, all-digital, all-electric world, which enables us to rethink the entire building infrastructure and transportation life cycles for both old and new buildings. It gives us the foundation we need to create and retrofit buildings and infrastructures of the future that are sustainable, resilient, hyper-efficient and people-centric. So cities in 10 years will be bigger, more connected, all-digital, all-electric, and we need a greater end-to-end efficiency and sustainability.
At the centre of this is electricity. As the world is seeing unprecedented demands placed on traditional grids, Schneider is already armed with solutions. From microgrids and electric vehicles, to data centres and Buildings of the Future, Schneider’s priority is ensuring green energy is the future.”
Chadli: “The microgrid will help in this disruption, and won’t only be for remote communities. We will see it power hospitals, malls, other major buildings and even data centres. We are also in the electrical vehicle sphere. We already have a fantastic charging product, and we are working towards an electrical fleet. All of this disruption and all of these innovative solutions will contribute to making the world more electric.”
A report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) found that, as of 2020, 580 million Africans still didn’t have access to electricity. While those numbers were down from 610 million in 2013, it is still a terrifying number of people who can’t rely on access to something that much of the world takes for granted. It gets worse, too: the pandemic, plus a growth in population, means the IEA estimates those numbers won’t improve across the next decade - unless access to electricity becomes smarter. This is where Schneider comes in.
Schneider has worked within Africa for several decades to bring electricity to the people who need it most. There is, clearly, much work to be done. But through decentralised, decarbonised grids of the future, and more digitised operations and maintenance, Schneider is determined to bring mass electrification to Africa, and is committed to ensuring a smart and green future for the continent.
Chadli: “Schneider’s role in Africa is really important, and we have always believed in the potential of Africa. There are more than 500 million people in Africa that don’t have access to energy, and we really believe that access to energy and access to digital is a basic human right. The number of Africans without access to energy will only increase with the rise of urbanisation, so the goal is to help Africa to strengthen and to bring new ways of empowering the people. We are introducing the technologies that will help bring it: smart grids and renewable energies, which are known to be cheaper, and can be deployed quickly.
Recently, in Kenya, we were able to build a solar and storage microgrid at a hospital. And it was really successful. So smart grids can be a real solution for Africa, because it combines a range of innovative tools and practices supported by a new business model and regulatory framework to help to ensure better electricity in the continent. We are also powering the critical buildings like airports, hospitals, data centres, and we are in all other segments: in oil and gas, in water, in mining, and in education, where we are working with the universities.
We are present everywhere, from the remote village where we work with our partners to install microgrids to supply local communities with renewable energy, to the big cities where we are working with governments in order to build smartgrids and integrate renewables. We are really omnipresent and we believe in Africa and will continue to invest deeply in Africa.”
There are more than 500 million people in Africa that don’t have access to energy, and we really believe that access to energy and access to digital is a basic human right”
The EcoXpert ecosytem
Schneider Electric can’t change the planet on its own, of course. Creating a greener world requires collaboration and partnerships across industries, nations, and governments. But Schneider is doing what it can in its own sphere of influence, creating an EcoStruxure to ensure it partners in everything it does in order to, as the company says, “co-innovate and co-create the future of our planet”.
Schneider’s implementation arm of its EcoStruxure is its EcoXperts, a partner programme that offers collaborations between Schneider Electric and a global network of solution providers across power and energy management and building control. To be a Schneider Electric EcoXperts means holding the same vision for a greener future, and the means of creating it through intelligent and sustainable solutions. Currently, there are almost 5,000 EcoXpert partner companies, across 79 countries.
Abd-El-Azim: “Partners are in our DNA. We’ve worked for decades through an unparalleled network of panel builders, distributors, electricians, and contractors with whom we have mutual trust, understanding and shared values. Our partners are evolving to meet the needs of today’s customers. New trends for sustainable, resilient, hyper-efficient and people-centric Buildings of the Future have emerged and require more simplified, open and digital solutions such as EcoStruxure – our single, open, and interoperable IoT-enabled system, which allows us to innovate at every level. These needs are addressed by EcoXpert business partners, our ecosystem of experts, gathering our historical panel builders, and newly embarked system integrators.
Another strategic approach we have pioneered is Schneider Electric Exchange. Schneider Electric Exchange is an open and digital platform designed to empower our partners through providing a means to interact with a community of passionate engineers who collaborate to innovate. It’s also a platform that enables our partners, such as EcoXperts, to list themselves as service providers, allowing customers, contractors, consultants and other partners to find them based on their competencies and certifications.
With EcoXperts, we are more local, more efficient, and more sustainable. And with this approach, we are also helping our customers to both address their challenges and achieve their sustainability goals.”
Meet the EcoXperts
One EcoXpert is GAMA Engineering, which provides a range of electrical and automation solutions, building management systems and energy management services. GAMA is Schneider Electric’s EcoXpert partner in power and digital energy solutions and its specialist partners in the hotel segment.
Abd-El-Azim: “GAMA Engineering is a unique and loyal partner of ours offering multiple solutions for Schneider Electric under an umbrella for greenfield as well as brownfield markets. They bring excellent technical and project management skills to execute our solutions to customers. They have always maintained a high customer satisfaction level in their business verticals. Apart from new assets, GAMA Engineering is very active in upgrading existing assets for clients, helping them to realise significantly higher value for their old installations, seamlessly. They have been instrumental in implementing our EcoStruxure-based sustainability solutions in various segments, like hotels, banks, manufacturing industries, largely developers and so many others.”
Another EcoXpert is Koneltek, a Turkish company that provides home automation and smart home systems, climate control, energy monitoring and much more.
Abd-El-Azim: “Koneltek’s perception of future is parallel with Schneider Electric’s vision. We have very strong commitments for sustainability and the future of our world, and so does Koneltek. They follow every action that we take and adapt their way of working. They take place in green building projects using our product and software that helps us to lower carbon emissions and also provide energy saving.Their area of working is so wide, from building management to electrical vehicle chargers, that they can positively impact the environment much more than a standard system integrator. They started working with us on a light and room control EcoXpert, but in the following years they have added critical power EcoXpert, which is about energy efficiency, and then building management systems EcoXpert, on top of their previous expertise. Koneltek has a team full of excellent engineers, and they also invest in R&D, so much that we get very valuable feedback from them about our products and software. This topic also makes Koneltek very special not only for Turkey but also for Schneider Electric globally.”
Schneider Electric’s future vision
When you talk to Schneider Electric about the future, three key areas emerge. First, infrastructure of the future: IoT-enabled transportation systems for better customer experiences across rail, airports, ports, and urban transportation, and the company sees eMobility as the most scalable opportunity for a green future. Secondly, as previously covered, Buildings of the Future: sustainable, resilient, hyper-efficient and people-centric. Thirdly, data centres of the future: the heart of the digital world, providing sustainability, efficiency, adaptability, resilience and state-of-the-art technology.
All three, Schneider Electric believes, will combine to create a greener world. The company is leading the way in its industry, and is well on its way to meeting its objective to become carbon neutral in its operations by 2025. With its partners, Schneider sees itself as more local, more efficient and more sustainable than ever before.
Chadli: “Electric is a big disruption. Why? Because electricity is the greenest energy. We know that we will move from fossil energy resources to solar and wind energy. Electric creates a future which is much better than the one that we have today. Electric will bring us to a smart and green environment. The transformation has already started, with microgrids, net-zero buildings, electric vehicles.”
Abd-El-Azim: “All of us – customers, partners, suppliers, government, individuals – can make the planet hit the UN sustainability goals, and I am confident about it. Sustainability is not a fancy word anymore. Today, it is a mainstream priority. And at Schneider Electric we have a long-term commitment, not only with our employees, but including our partners, suppliers and customers. Innovation is a key for change to happen. We recently launched our switchgear innovation, combining pure air and vacuum technology. Our SM6 AirSeT has already been recognised by industry experts within the Industrial Efficiency Awards category by phasing out SF6-potent greenhouse gas from all products by 2025. Schneider Electric will prevent the equivalent of over 4 million tonnes of co2 emissions per year. And that’s how innovations for an all-digital and all-electrical world will enable us to deliver more, with zero waste, zero emission, zero carbon. Hence we create a greener world.”