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Businesses Double Down on Sustainability as Consumers Focus on Costs

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While most businesses have intensified their sustainability efforts, many residential consumers’ actions have stalled as cost and complexity have slowed commitment to clean-energy solutions, according to Deloitte’s “Resources 2019 Study — Balancing climate, cost, and choice,” released today.

Although the annual survey shows widespread agreement on the need to address climate change and reduce their carbon footprints, businesses seem much more willing to take action than residential consumers. The survey found that businesses increasingly view sustainability as an opportunity to create value, while residential consumers tend to have a more nuanced view that factors in the cost and convenience of sustainability improvements.

“Consumer complacency may be settling in as costs outweigh climate as a motivator in adopting new technologies and cleaner energy sources,” said Marlene Motyka, Deloitte U.S. and global renewable energy leader and principal, Deloitte Transactions and Business Analytics LLP. “On the other hand, most businesses don’t perceive a choice between climate and cost. They see green energy choices as a win-win: doing the ‘right thing’ is good for the environment and the bottom line.”

According to the study, about two-thirds of business respondents say their customers are demanding they procure a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable resources, and nearly half of the businesses surveyed are seeking to do so. On the other hand, despite their own hesitations about investing in sustainability, most residential consumers surveyed expect action from the business sector and the government. Households also tend to believe it is the government’s responsibility to set the vision and path for U.S. energy strategy, indicating that government policies could help overcome consumer reluctance to adopt sustainable technologies.

Among the key findings:

Of the 84% of business respondents aware of recent global climate change reports, nearly two-thirds reviewed or changed their energy management strategies in response, with 83% increasing their commitment.

While energy management remains a top priority, with 9 in 10 reporting goals to reduce electricity consumption, most businesses surveyed are also expanding resource management goals in other areas — with water gaining the most ground with an increase from 59% in 2016 to 75% this year.

Among residential consumers polled, 67% are very concerned about climate change and their personal carbon footprints, but there was a slight retrenchment in how they felt about the importance of renewable sources of electricity — down to 48% from 53% in 2018.

Keeping total energy bills affordable rose five points to 63% in 2019, continuing to be the most important energy issue for residential consumers surveyed, while using clean energy sources fell slightly from 2018 to 50%.

Residential consumer behavior on climate in holding pattern: complacency or confusion?
When it comes to translating attitudes into action, the cost of electricity and the perceived cost/time investment required for changing behaviors or adopting new technologies, can be significant barriers to change. Moreover, messaging about new technologies, alternate providers, and other options do not appear to be coming through clearly. Whether it’s installing solar panels, enrolling in green energy programs, or purchasing battery storage or electric vehicles, many residential consumers consider those options too expensive or too complicated.

Slowing down on solar
Interest by surveyed residential consumers in installing rooftop solar fell from higher levels seen in 2016–17. Forty-four percent of those polled cite expense as the top barrier to solar installation, followed by uncertainty that panels would work as promised (21%). On the other hand, 39% of respondents would be extremely or very interested in purchasing a share in a community solar project, with interest highest among millennials (49%).

The millennial factor — the countertrend consumer
Surveyed millennials stand out as concerned about climate change and the only generation who consistently rate clean energy and exploring new technology options higher than other age cohorts. According to the study, 53% of millennials rate renewables’ role in their electricity supply as extremely or very important, as opposed to 40% in the mature age category (68+). In terms of technology adoption, 18% of respondents use software apps to track energy usage, with 29% of them using it daily. They’re also more likely to use home automation than older cohorts.

Home automation gaining momentum despite cyber concerns
Although home automation is at an early stage of deployment (only 2 in 10 of respondents), there are signs adoption is accelerating, with a doubling since 2016 of home device connectivity with smartphones. Fully 61% of active users surveyed are increasingly concerned about privacy and security, while 46% of all residential consumers say that these concerns might prevent them from purchasing smart home technology, and 39% of households link cyber risk with concerns about power outages.

Business see green begetting more green
While desire to cut costs was the top driver of those surveyed for resource management programs, “just ‘the right thing to do’” rose 11 points in 2019 to second place, at 39%. In fact, companies who view energy procurement as an opportunity to reduce risk, improve resilience and create new value, rather than as a cost — rose to 88% from 81% in prior years.

More businesses are also tying resource management goals to employee compensation, with 48% polled already incorporating energy objectives into goals, the highest level ever. Of those not working to procure more renewable energy, 65% said they could be motivated to do so by combining renewable energy with battery storage to provide backup generation and/or to improve the economics of the overall system.

Businesses increasingly look to onsite/self generation
By 2021, surveyed companies generating electricity on-site expect to source less power from electricity providers, falling from 40% of power consumed in 2018 to 35% of power consumed in 2021. They expect to replace this electric power with increased supplies from on-site renewable generation, off-site renewables and on-site co-generation. The top three reasons cited for installing onsite generation were diversification of energy supply, cost savings (up sharply) and price certainty.

Interest in electric vehicles (EVs) accelerating
Residential respondents are showing significant interest and intent in EVs, with 26% of respondents saying they are extremely or very interested in purchasing an EV, and 11% planning to replace their current vehicle with an EV. Concerns hindering growth are cost (44%), recharging convenience (29%) and range (26%), but if gasoline prices were higher, interest in purchasing an EV would likely rise for about 44% of residential consumers — and 55% of millennials.

On the business side, the survey shows that while business intentions to purchase EVs for their fleets remain unchanged, more are making the charging stations they provide to employees available for public use. More than half (54%) of respondents said their companies provide EV charging stations for employees, and of these companies, the percentage who make them available to the public ticked up to 6 points in 2018.

“For incumbent electricity providers and new entrants, inertia among residential consumers may, paradoxically, provide a competitive advantage,” said Stanley Porter, vice chairman, U.S. energy, resources and industrials leader, Deloitte Consulting LLP. “Generational preferences for greener energy, more choice, and more appetite for technology could open up markets. By understanding and segmenting the customer base and targeting them with clear and compelling messages through the appropriate channels, providers could break through consumer complacency and expand adoption of new services.”

Since 2010, Deloitte’s annual Resources study has been focused on the thinking of U.S. business and household decision-makers on energy usage, climate change, environmental responsibility, energy management and clean technologies. Based on surveys of 600 businesses across multiple sectors, and 1,500 residential consumers, the nationwide study was designed to provide insights that can help energy companies and businesses make energy-related investment and business decisions.

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Economic Activity in Myanmar to Remain at Low Levels, with the Overall Outlook Bleak

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Myanmar’s economy and people continue to be severely tested by the ongoing impacts of the military coup and the surge in COVID-19 cases in 2021. Following an expected 18 percent contraction of the economy in the year ended September 2021, the World Bank’s Myanmar Economic Monitor, released today, projects growth of 1 percent in the year to September 2022. While reflecting recent signs of stabilization in some areas, the projection remains consistent with a critically weak economy, around 30 percent smaller than it might have been in the absence of COVID-19 and the February 2021 coup.

The near-term outlook will depend on the evolution of the pandemic and the effects of conflict, together with the degree to which foreign exchange and financial sector constraints persist, as well as disruptions to other key services including electricity, logistics and digital connectivity.

“The situation and outlook for most people in Myanmar continues to be extremely worrying,” said World Bank Country Director for Myanmar, Cambodia and Lao PDR Mariam Sherman. “Recent trends of escalating conflict are concerning – firstly from a humanitarian perspective but also from the implications for economic activity. Moreover, with a low vaccination rate and inadequate health services, Myanmar is highly vulnerable to the Omicron variant of COVID-19.”

Among recent signs of economic stabilization, mobility has recovered to 2020 levels after falling around 70 percent below pre-COVID-19 baseline levels in July 2021, though it remains about 30 percent below pre-pandemic levels for retail, recreation, and transport venues. This is likely to have supported the services sector, though overall consumer demand continues to be weak due to recent shocks to incomes and employment. In the manufacturing sector, output and employment also appear to be stabilizing, and exports have recovered in recent months.

Nevertheless, economic activity continues to be affected by substantial weaknesses in both supply and demand. Firms continue to report sharp reductions in sales and profits, cashflow shortages, and a lack of adequate access to banking and internet services. Results from the latest World Bank firms’ survey indicate that around half of all companies experienced disruptions in the supply of inputs and raw materials in October, largely because of increases in costs amid logistics constraints and a sharp depreciation of the kyat. Farmers continue to be affected by higher prices for key inputs, restricted access to credit, and ongoing logistics constraints.

Ongoing economic pressures are having a substantial effect on vulnerability and food security, particularly for the poor, whose savings have been drained as a result of recent shocks. The share of Myanmar’s population living in poverty is expected to have doubled compared to pre-COVID-19 levels. Combined with pressures on agricultural production, rapid price inflation and reduced access to credit are expected to further compound food security risks.

Over the longer term, events since February 2021 are expected to limit Myanmar’s growth potential. “Most indicators suggest that private investment has fallen markedly, and previously viable projects are becoming unviable as demand remains weak, the cost of imports has risen, and kyat-denominated revenues are worth less in foreign currency terms,” said World Bank Senior Economist for Myanmar Kim Edwards. “In addition, lost months of education, together with large increases in unemployment and displacement, will substantially reduce human capital, skills and productive capacity over the longer term.”

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Structural Reforms Needed to Put Tunisia on Path to Sustainable Growth

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Decisive structural reforms and an improved business climate are essential to put Tunisia’s economy on a more sustainable path, create jobs for the growing youth population and better manage the country’s debt burden, according to the Winter 2021 Edition of the World Bank’s Tunisia Economic Monitor.

Titled “Economic Reforms to Navigate out of the Crisis” (in French, “Réformes économiques pour sortir de la crise”), the report estimates a slow economic recovery from COVID-19, with projected growth of 3% in 2021. Weighing on this recovery is rising unemployment, which increased from 15.1% to 18.4% in the third quarter of 2021, affecting the youth and people in the western regions hardest.

The report outlines how the weak recovery puts pressure on Tunisia’s already strained public finances, with the budget deficit still elevated at 7.6% in 2021, despite a small contraction from 9.4% in 2020.  The budget deficit is projected to gradually decline, reaching 5% to 7% of GDP in 2022-23, helped by lower health-related expenditures and provided that the moderately positive trajectory of spending and revenue are maintained. However, Tunisia’s rising public debt will be hard to finance without decisive public finance and economic reforms, the report noted.

“Just like everywhere else, COVID-19 has adversely affected Tunisia’s economy and the report strongly highlights the need to address longstanding challenges to sustainable growth, including improving the business environment,” said Alexandre Arrobbio, World Bank Country Manager for Tunisia. “To emerge from this crisis, Tunisia needs to adopt decisive reforms to promote private sector development, boost competitiveness and create more jobs, especially for women and youth.”

The first chapter of the report analyzes potential reasons behind Tunisia’s slow economic recovery and highlights two specific factors: the country’s reliance on tourism and transport services; and the rigidity of the business climate, including restrictions on investments and competition which constrain the reallocation of resources in the economy.

The second chapter elaborates on key barriers to competition, arguing that Tunisia’s current regulatory environment restricts competition and discourages the development of new businesses. Looking ahead, the report recommends that policy reforms to ensure a level playing field in every sector are essential in order to boost employment for Tunisians and to increase purchasing power.  

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Lebanon’s Crisis: Great Denial in the Deliberate Depression

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The scale and scope of Lebanon’s deliberate depression are leading to the disintegration of key pillars of Lebanon’s post-civil war political economy. This is being manifested by a collapse of the most basic public services; persistent and debilitating internal political discord; and mass brain drain. Meanwhile, the poor and the middle class, who were never well served under this model in the first place, are carrying the main burden of the crisis.

According to the World Bank Lebanon Economic Monitor (LEM) Fall 2021 “The Great Denial”, Lebanon’s deliberate depression is orchestrated by the country’s elite that has long captured the state and lived off its economic rents.  This capture persists despite the severity of the crisis –one of the top ten, possibly top three most severe economic collapses worldwide since the 1850s; it has come to threaten the country’s long-term stability and social peace. The country’s post-war economic development model which thrived on large capital inflows and international support in return for promises of reforms is bankrupt. In addition, the collapse is occurring in a highly unstable geo-political environment making the urgency of addressing the dire crisis even more pressing.

The LEM estimates real GDP to decline by 10.5 percent in 2021, on the back of a 21.4 contraction in 2020. In fact, Lebanon’s GDP plummeted from close to US$52 billion in 2019 to a projected US$21.8 billion in 2021, marking a 58.1 percent contraction—the highest contraction in a list of 193 countries.

Monetary and financial turmoil continue to drive crisis conditions, under a multiple exchange rate system which poses valuable challenges on the economy. The sharp deterioration in the Lebanese Lira persisted in 2021, with the US$ banknote rate and the World Bank Average Exchange rate depreciating by 211 and 219 percent (year-on-year), respectively, over the first 11 months of the year. Exchange rate pass through effects on prices have resulted in surging inflation, estimated to average 145 percent in 2021—ranking 3rd globally after Venezuela and Sudan. Inflation is a highly regressive tax, disproportionally affecting the poor and vulnerable, and more generally, people living on fixed income like pensioners. Food inflation remains concerning as it forms a larger proportion of the expenses incurred by poorer households who are struggling to make ends meet with their deteriorating purchasing power.

Government revenues are estimated to almost halve in 2021 to reach 6.6 percent of GDP, marking the 3rd lowest ratio globally after Somalia and Yemen. The expenditure contraction was even more pronounced, led partially by drastic cutbacks in primary spending, which has reinforced the economic spiral. Meanwhile, gross debt is estimated to reach 183 percent of GDP in 2021, taking Lebanon to the 4th highest ratio in the world preceded only by Japan, Sudan and Greece.

A rare relative bright spot in 2021 has been tourism, which helped hold the current account deficit-to-GDP ratio steady.

Starting Spring 2021, a disorderly termination of the foreign exchange (FX) subsidy commenced and was in full force by the summer. The path authorities followed to the subsidy removal was opaque, inadequately coordinated and lacked timely pro-poor alleviation measures. As a result, subsidy removal mostly benefited importers and smugglers while precious and scarce FX resources were drained.

“Deliberate denial during deliberate depression is creating long-lasting scars on the economy and society. Over two years into the financial crisis, Lebanon has yet to identify, least of all embark upon, a credible path toward economic and financial recovery,” said Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank Mashreq Regional Director. “The Government of Lebanon urgently needs to move forward with the adoption of a credible, comprehensive and equitable macro-financial stabilization and recovery plan and accelerate its implementation if it is to avoid a complete destruction of its social and economic networks and immediately stop irreversible loss of human capital. The World Bank reconfirms its readiness to continue to support Lebanon in addressing the pressing needs of its people and challenges affecting their livelihoods.”

As detailed and called for in previous issues of the LEM, this strategy would be based on: (i) a new monetary policy framework that would regain confidence and stability in the exchange rate; (ii) a debt restructuring program that would achieve short-term fiscal space and medium-term debt sustainability; (iii) a comprehensive restructuring of the financial sector to regain solvency of the banking sector; (iv) a phased, equitable, fiscal adjustment to regain confidence in fiscal policy; (v) growth enhancing reforms; and (vi) enhanced social protection.

Particularly, initiating a comprehensive, well-structured and swift reform of the electricity sector is critical to address the long-standing and compounding challenges of this sector which is at the center of Lebanon’s economic and social recovery. In addition, Lebanon needs to step-up efforts to ensure efficient and prompt delivery of social protection assistance to the poor and vulnerable households struggling under the continuing economic crisis.

The Special Focus section of the LEM “Searching for the External Lift in the Deliberate Depression” examines the reasons for the weaker than expected increase in exports considering the Lebanese Lira’s sharp depreciation; it analyzes the failure thus far for the external sector to sufficiently benefit from increased price competitiveness and become a more robust driver of growth. The Special Focus finds that Lebanon’s exports are inhibited by three factors (outside of the crisis itself): (i) (pre crisis) economic fundamentals; (ii) global conditions; and (iii) political/institutional environment.

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