ABB’s head of sustainability on its proud history and competitors

Michael Cooke, head of HSE and sustainability affairs at ABB

Technology leader ABB has a long history in lowering environmental impact through its innovative products. Dating back as far as the 1800s, it came up with the “firsts” of many things, from the world’s first self-cooling transformer to the first synthetic diamond.

Now it has become one of the few companies to have successfully embedded sustainability into its business model. Its products offer customers the ability to reduce and manage energy consumption more efficiently. ABB also has a dedicated sustainability board that meets twice a year to agree on its sustainability objectives. It’s no surprise then that ABB was shortlisted by The Drum for ‘B2B Sustainable Brand of the Year’. This award recognition, as well as a new study about sustainability’s growing role in the business, was created in conjunction with global B2B marketing agency Gyro.

Michael Cooke, ABB’s head of HSE and sustainability affairs, tells The Drum he is proud of ABB’s long history in sustainability.

“We calculate that if all the motors were maintained and monitored in the [ABB] way, about a third of the world's energy could be saved over several years because it’s so significant. We've also developed processes which bring wind and solar energy from remote places to where it can be used. This not only brings environmental benefits but also social benefits, allowing communities to develop through access to electricity.

"Our work in ensuring high standards of corporate responsibility, especially in terms of human rights, is also very important to ABB, even in challenging parts of the world where we work.”

Cooke admits there are certain challenges ABB faces in tackling sustainability – particularly due to the “size of ABB” and the “scope of the things” the company is involved in. One method for speeding things up could be to team up with others in the industry.

The Drum partnered with Gyro to examine how marketers feel about partnering up with competitors to tackle sustainability. The research findings found that over half (53%) are happy to collaborate with competitors on environmental issues.

“There is a remarkable amount of collaboration going on that we just don't get to hear about and is often buried deep in a brand's website,” says Kate Howe, managing director at Gyro. “Their stories aren't being told and that's a great opportunity for marketers to tell those stories better. If an analyst or investor is looking at the organisation, then these are the kind of stories that can be dug out as ways of proving ethical and positive behaviours towards the future of the planet.”

Cooke cautions that there needs to be a common standard across the industry if we are to judge the environmental impact by brands fairly.

“If we [collectively] look at the amount of green-house gas emissions we've reduced through our products, it’s very significant. But how do we account for that in the same way as one of our biggest competitors or another company if we use different accounting practices? We end up confusing our customers and other stakeholders [unless it is all measured the same way.]”

The full report, "The Drum Market Insight Report: Mind the Gap: How Marketers Perceive Sustainability" will be available to download soon. The winner of ‘Sustainable B2B Brand of the Year’ was announced at The Marketing Can Change the World Awards, part of Do It Day, on Thursday, 10 November 2016.

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