Movers & Shakers: Bjørn K. Haugland on the power of industry for change

June 26, 2019
By The Explorer

Can networking inspire companies to devise solutions to the climate crisis? Yes, says the CEO of Skift, a business-led climate initiative in Norway.

Facilitation, acceleration, inspiration, low-carbon solutions – these may be buzzwords to some, but for Bjørn K. Haugland, the CEO of Skift, they are a credo to live by.

“Our aim is to accelerate the emergence of solutions and instruments to achieve Norway’s emissions reduction targets, and to demonstrate their effect in pilot projects and through business collaboration,” he says.

The Skift coalition includes some of Norway’s largest companies. Industries ranging from banking and finance to construction and transport are joining forces with one objective: to pick up the pace of change.

According to Haugland, the network is not a club for companies wanting to smarten up their sustainability profile. On the contrary, member companies must demonstrate that they are working in a targeted manner to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

“Everyone agrees that it’s important to cut emissions. We represent the businesses that think it’s more than important – it’s urgent,” he points out.

According to Haugland, we have to make use of existing solutions.

“We know the exact emissions targets for each sector. We don’t need more reports, we need action,” he stresses.

Skift means “shift” or “transition” in Norwegian. A green shift or green transition is what is needed if the climate target set by the Norwegian Parliament is to be achieved: the country has committed itself to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases by 40 per cent by 2030.

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Skift and The Explorer have entered into a strategic partnership, represented here by Bjørn K. Haugland, CEO of Skift, and Helene Friis, Head of The Explorer.

Those who go first learn most

It is not necessarily easy to grasp how network-building and brainstorming between well-paid heads of industry will help to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Haugland explains what Skift actually does.

“We are working to enable leaders and companies to inspire and challenge one another. If one of them implements a measure, the others will follow suit, saying, ‘If you managed it, we can manage it.’ Business leaders are incredibly competitive. The more they know about what others are doing, the more driven they become,” he says.

There is reason to believe that Haugland knows what he is talking about. He has over 30 years’ experience in business operations in Norway and Asia, and he comes from a position as Executive Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer at DNV GL, the world’s leading ship classification society. He clearly knows a thing or two about sustainability, innovation and competitiveness.

“In my experience, those who go first learn most. Time is of the essence in cutting emissions, so it’s incredibly important to share experience and develop effective solutions so others can follow in our footsteps,” he says.

Replacing coal and electrifying transport

Being a facilitator is one thing, but Skift is also launching concrete projects. In Svalbard, for example, the coalition is spearheading a project to make the whole island community sustainable.

“Like many other places on earth, Svalbard is run entirely on coal. This represents a tremendous opportunity for Norwegian business and technology development: How can we make Svalbard 100 per cent renewable? We are harnessing the power of industry to devise effective solutions,” says Haugland.

The GreenFleet initiative to electrify goods transport in Norway is also underway.

“This project has two important components: the first is sharing best practice, the second is using our combined procurement power. When we began, there were no electric delivery vehicles with adequate capacity in Norway. So we joined forces with large companies such as Veidekke, Ruter and Posten and went to the suppliers with the specifications we wanted and the number of electric vehicles we needed in the years ahead. By doing so we identified the market and the need for electric delivery vehicles.”

The project has already borne fruit.

“Now, for example, all of Peppes Pizza’s delivery vehicles are electric and Coca-Cola Norway is in the process of replacing its company cars with electric cars,” he says.

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Although small electric delivery vehicles such as Paxster were in use in Norway, the Skift coalition and its partners could not find large electric vehicles – so they took the matter in their own hands.

Paxster AS

Well-equipped for a rapid green transition

Haugland believes that Norway can be a trailblazer and demonstrate how industries can become both profitable and 100 per cent green.

“Norway is number one in the world when it comes to using digital solutions. Norway also has a highly educated population, excellent equality and a high level of trust across society – all of these are factors which, in my experience, facilitate innovation and rapid restructuring.”

In practical terms, he expects Norway to continue to be a leader in the ocean industries, particularly shipping, energy and aquaculture.

“Construction of the world’s first fully electric autonomous container ship is already underway in Norway. We cover the entire maritime value chain, from concepts and design to construction and operations, and we can steer the industry in an even greener direction both in Norway and globally.”

“We should take advantage of our expertise in oil and gas to build up an entire supplier industry for floating offshore wind through projects in the North Sea. The world also needs more food from the sea. Norway has extensive expertise here, and I believe we can solve the environmental challenges associated with aquaculture.”

Engagement, technology and the sharing economy

Although there are some indications that the world is moving in the right direction, it is still lagging behind when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Nonetheless, Haugland firmly believes that we will manage to turn things around in time to meet the 1.5 °C goal of the Paris Agreement.

“In my opinion, if there is one industry that has turned things around in only a few years and had a major impact, it is the finance industry,” he says, citing Storebrand as an example. Norway’s largest life insurance and asset management company, Storebrand is investing the money it manages in sustainable solutions because they generate high yields and reduce risk.

But more importantly, Haugland sees a shift in awareness of climate change at nearly all levels of society.

“More people are acknowledging that climate change not only has to be addressed, but it has to be addressed now – and everyone has a contribution to make. The youth movement we’re seeing, kickstarted by Greta Thunberg, is a good example. In my visits to universities and research institutions all over the world I see that the very best students are exclusively choosing to work on solutions for a sustainable future,” he says.

He also firmly believes in the sharing economy in which private individuals buy and own less and instead make it easier to share goods and services.

“I’m about to sell my car and will now be using a car from Nabobil when I need one. To me this shows that when you introduce a sharing solution that is simple and cheaper people are going to use it – and will over time change their habits,” he concludes.