Seven Lessons for the Just Energy Transition

June 8, 2023
  • Elisa Estrada Holteng

    Strategy and Campaign Lead for Climate, Nature and Just Transition, The B Team

  • Jenna Kowalevsky portrait

    Jenna Kowalevsky

    Manager, Energy, Extractives, Industrials, and Transport, BSR

  • Ouida Chichester portrait

    Ouida Chichester

    Director, Energy, Extractives, Transport, and Industrials, BSR

In 2022, BSR and The B Team launched Energy for a Just Transition (EJT), a business-led collaboration that brings companies and stakeholders together to help the energy and utilities sector plan for and implement a just, fair, and inclusive transition from a carbon-intensive economy to a net-zero GHG economy by 2050. The three-year collaboration provides a forum for discussion, knowledge sharing, and action.

Throughout our first year, we have learned various lessons about the challenges and opportunities of corporate action on the just transition in the energy sector:

  1. Ambition matters, but it is not enough. The companies that are part of EJT have set net-zero ambitions, and most have made explicit just transition commitments. However, moving from ambition to action on a complex issue like just transition is not easy. Business must keep up with evolving definitions and stakeholder expectations, as well as maintain transparency on objectives and new challenges. It requires a careful and honest assessment of how and where a company is best positioned to act.

    It also calls for buy-in from the top, which translates to the appropriate support and resource allocation for implementation across the organization and its activities. Evolving corporate incentives and culture is essential to drive the right conversations and changes required to ensure coordination across various organizational layers, the supply chain, and multiple geographies. In the year since we started EJT, we do see that just transition has been further integrated into corporate strategies.
  2. A cornerstone of the just transition is engaging in social dialogue, minimizing the impact of transition on workers, and maximizing opportunities for inclusion and continued access to good jobs. Last year, the collaboration engaged with worker representatives in challenging yet constructive conversations. A key learning was that more spaces for engagement between workers and company practitioners (including human resources, workforce planning, industrial relations, and stakeholder engagement teams) are needed to improve the mutual understanding of what the challenges, expectations, and possibilities are. While these informal discussion spaces do not substitute formal engagement processes like bipartite or tripartite negotiations, they can build and enrich social dialogue outcomes when actively sought out and entered into with transparency.
  3. A significant obstacle to the effective implementation of just transition at the corporate level relates to the cross-functional nature of the challenge. Just transition requires an approach that is contrary to the traditional and often siloed approach to risk and impact management and opportunity realization processes in the energy industry. A just energy transition requires collaborative and coordinated thinking that goes beyond commercial and engineering-driven solutions. Some positive signals of change are emerging. As one member said: “Thanks to the just transition, our engineers are finally starting to understand why social aspects need to be an essential part of solutions design.”
  4. No company can tackle the challenge alone. Just transition is about change that needs to happen “everywhere, all at once”—and it needs true systematic coordination. Collaboration can be tricky to “unlock.” It requires trust, aligned objectives, agreement on the problem, the right mandates and resources, and a certain appetite for risk. Adhering to antitrust laws is essential but should not be an excuse to stop exploring the right space for action. Several working groups have now been established to identify possible joint action in areas such as workforce transition, the supply chain, and project development.
  5. “Transition out” is different from “transition in”—but the impacts are simultaneous. The “transition out” phase involves asset closure, decommissioning, divestment, or transformation and consideration of how to manage these responsibly whilst creating job opportunities and mitigating impact on surrounding communities. The “transition in” phase requires a strong commitment to respecting human rights and addressing social impacts when moving into the renewables space—including across the value chain—even as we aim to move at the fastest possible pace. Many companies find themselves participating in multiple transitions simultaneously—a situation that some are referring to as the “transition across,” since it requires them to take a holistic approach to manage the impacts of "transitioning in" and "transitioning out.”
  6. A just transition is impossible without stakeholder engagement. Stakeholders affected by the transition include workers, communities, landowners, civil society and environmental groups, human rights defenders, investors, and governments at national and local levels amongst many others. The context of transition is one that demands fast implementation. Stakeholder engagement could be perceived as a time-consuming step in project development or closure, and there is a risk that engagement becomes a tick-the-box exercise for companies. This can result in frustration or fatigue by stakeholders. But engagement should be seen as an opportunity to codesign a more sustainable transition and to create more just outcomes. It should be a space for collaboration and coordination, to ensure the processes are valuable, effective, and impactful for everyone involved.
  7. Corporate action on just transition without system change will not suffice. To accelerate the just transition, we need to change incentive structures and create an enabling policy environment to align economic incentives to redirect capital toward climate mitigation, ecological restoration, and social needs and opportunities. We need to mobilize significant investment to support economic diversification. The private sector has an important role in calling for the policy changes and incentives alignments that are required to ensure a just transition—and avoiding lobbying for or funding policies that are counter to the just transition.  A level playing field and a supportive environment, created through policy and regulation, will stimulate increased corporate uptake and implementation of the just transition.

After one year of EJT, we know that much remains to be done! Energy companies can and must work collaboratively, participate in, and support initiatives that enable a worker- and community-centered transition to a net-zero economy. Get in touch if you want to learn more about how you can support your company, lead in this changing environment, and advance the just transition.

Let’s talk about how BSR can help you to transform your business and achieve your sustainability goals.

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