Elsa Monteiro, head of sustainability and corporate communication at Sonae Sierra, tells Business Review about the Bright Programme and its importance in reducing energy consumption and carbon footprint at the shopping centers the company owns and manages.
By Anda Sebesi
What can you tell us about the way that Sonae Sierra embeds the sustainability concept in its business strategy?
Our sustainability strategy is embedded in our business model and governance structure. Sonae Sierra’s achievements since we set our sustainability journey more than 20 years ago have earned us international recognition and several awards. Through our sustainability history, we have strengthened our brand and reputation amongst key opinion makers, and we are consistently recognized for our best-in-class approach to safety, health and environment. Our approach to sustainability focuses on creating shared value across three levels: through engagement with partners across our investment portfolio; through the active marketing of sustainability services to our clients and through our corporate sustainability practices and with our employees. By doing so, we protect the long-term value of our assets by managing operational risks and increasing resource efficiencies; we deliver an exemplary service and experience to investors, partners, service clients, tenants and building visitors; and we reduce our corporate office impacts and attract and retain talented people in our company.
Sonae Sierra won the Silver Stevie Award at the 2018 International Business Awards with the Bright Programme. How important is this recognition for your company?
As the International Business Awards are the world’s premier business awards program, it comes as a high recognition of our long-standing commitment to energy efficiency in both our own and in our clients’ portfolio. This is especially true in a year where they raised the minimum average score required to qualify as a Stevie winner, so as a 2018 winner we are especially proud of our achievements (winning amongst 74 nations and territories, totaling more than 3,900 nominations for the awards).
What can you tell us about the Bright Programme and its importance for the market?
The Bright Programme is an innovative one designed in 2013 by Sonae Sierra with the objective of reducing energy consumption and carbon footprint at the shopping centers it owns and manages. Bright encompasses four areas of action: modeling optimum consumption for each building and analyzing the consumption profile, identifying and implementing optimization measures, continuous monitoring of consumption and implementing management solutions to enable maintaining the building’s energy performance at an optimum level. The immediate result was that Bright Programme has allowed Sonae Sierra to target specific improvement measures for its portfolio, lowering energy consumption across the board and considerably reducing its environmental footprint, while maintaining or even improving the level of service to tenants and visitors.
What is the added value that Bright Programme brings for the market?
So far, the program has enabled Sonae Sierra to identify 249 energy optimization measures across 28 shopping centers.
With a total investment cost of EUR 1.8 million, 185 of these measures already implemented allowed Sonae Sierra to reduce energy consumption by 18,400 MWh, equivalent to EUR 2.3 million, representing 10 percent of our 2017 annual electricity consumption. This also delivered a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 44 percent of our shopping centers’ 2017 carbon footprint (based on grid average emissions factors).
Some 70 percent of the actions implemented were quick-wins with little or no investment requirements from the sites: EUR 300,000 invested generated EUR 1.4 billion, 63 percent of all potential savings of the program. There still are 64 actions being implemented, requiring EUR 2 million. These would generate yearly potential savings of EUR 1.3 million (9,400 MWh) or equivalent to 5 percent of our 2017 electricity consumption.
Achieving substantial energy savings and permanently improving the indoor air quality are the main objectives of the Bright Programme. In addition, efforts needed to be made to ensure that the technical resources are used as much as possible at any time as energy-efficiently as possible, given the significant fluctuation in the number of people present in the shopping center throughout the day.
How did the Bright Programme enable you to identify energy optimization measures across shopping centers?
A major problem in achieving continuous improvements in energy efficiency has been the difficulties associated with predicting how people use technology. How people interact with equipment such as HVAC systems, for example, can have a profound effect on energy consumption. It is therefore important to be able to differentiate between inefficiencies that are due to technical reasons and those that are behavioral in nature. Finding a model that could account for both these factors proved extremely difficult. Quite simply, such a product was not yet available on the market.
Therefore, Sonae Sierra developed the Bright Programme to create its own model. Traditional benchmarking tools struggle to account for local or regional-specific factors, and shopping centers that are located in unfavorable climates are therefore often misinterpreted as inefficient. The Bright Programme improves on these by allowing us to monitor the energy consumption of our shopping centers against a virtual simulation, identifying technical improvements and enhancing management practices.
The first task was to find building energy simulation software that could be adapted to deal with the necessary level of complexity. A dedicated internal team adapted a commercially available solution to create the ‘virtual standard shopping centre’ (VSSC) tool. The tool allows Sonae Sierra to accurately predict the optimal energy consumption of every shopping center in its portfolio.
The team developed two benchmarks: a reference benchmark and an operational benchmark. The reference benchmark calculates the optimal energy consumption of the shopping center if it contained state-of-the-art equipment. The operational benchmark calculates the optimal consumption, based on the equipment the shopping center actually contains. The model therefore indicates shopping centers that are underperforming due to their equipment, and those that are underperforming due to management practices.
The results of a pilot audit were analyzed and the shopping centers that were underperforming by the greatest margin were earmarked for on-site visits. The use of the reference and the operational benchmark allowed site visits to be targeted towards either technical performance or management practices.
On-site visits represented a knowledge-sharing exercise whereby employees were provided with training in best practice, and effective management processes that had developed organically were fed back to Sonae Sierra’s sustainability team. Any initial skepticism soon dissipated as local teams saw the results of the program and the recommendations it inspired. Sonae Sierra ensured that recommendations were presented as ideas rather than orders, with which shopping center teams were invited to engage.
With the Bright Programme, Sonae Sierra took a step into the unknown. It looked beyond theoretical benchmarks to engage with the actual energy consumption of its assets and set in motion a process to achieve tangible, appreciable economic and environmental gains.