Norman Crowley of Cool Planet Group explains which sustainability initiatives are gaining traction and how implementing sustainable practices requires a shift in mindset as well as new technologies.
The focus on the climate crisis has surged in recent years, but some people had their full attention on this issue before it was such a mainstream topic.
One of those people is Norman Crowley, a Cork entrepreneur who has grown a business empire called Cool Planet Group, that has links to various sectors. More than 15 companies are included in this organisation, working on projects such as electric vehicles for the mining industry and grid scale battery projects.
The key focus for Cool Planet Group is decarbonisation, working with clients in sectors such pharma, real estate, shipping and the food and beverages industry to make their businesses more sustainable.
“The recent focus on climate and sustainability has really helped the growth of the business,” Crowley said. “We have been working on decarbonisation for 12 years and every year our clients come under more and more pressure to be greener. We have the usual growing pains of a business that doubles in size every year.”
Adapting the business
The Wicklow-based Cool Planet Group includes electric car manufacturer Ava, which focuses on electrifying high end classic vehicles.
Crowley said Cool Planet managed to hit several important milestones in recent years, including raising €31m in investment in 2020 from the French fund Tikehau. He said he was also proud of how the group navigated the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic and shifting from an engineering projects company to “a fast-growing software and services company”.
“One of our most thrilling endeavours is the global roll-out of our software and with Cargill,” Crowley said. “The software is crucial in helping Cargill deliver their ambitious sustainability targets.”
“It offers real-time insights into their carbon footprint, engages all levels of the organisation in the decarbonisation process, and enables coherent, collective action towards reducing emissions.
“It’s not just about monitoring and reporting – it’s about fostering a culture of sustainability that resonates throughout their global presence,” he said.
A podcast on The Currency suggested Cool Planet was on a hiring spree in 2023 and was on track to grow its team past 170. Despite the size of the team, Crowley said his organisation is “very flat” and that everyone can connect with each other easily”.
“It sounds really boring but we perform best as a team,” Crowley said. “If the team finds meaning in what they’re doing and can progress in terms of learning and fulfillment then the team and the business performs really well. This is easy to say but has taken 12 years to get right.”
Decarbonisation at scale
The key focus of Cool Planet is “decarbonisation at scale” and helping organisations hit ambitious sustainability targets, but Crowley said this is a significant challenge for some of the group’s larger clients – which he claimed have “more carbon emissions than France or Poland”.
“Large clients often grapple with the change management aspect, as it requires a profound transformation in both culture and operations,” Crowley said. “Implementing sustainable practices across vast and varied portfolios demands not just the integration of new technologies but also a shift in mindset at all organisational levels.”
While every industry has its own unique issues when it comes to reducing their emissions, Crowley believes decarbonisation can be “particularly challenging” for the manufacturing sector, especially “lower margin manufacturing”.
“These industries often operate on tight budgets, where significant investments in clean technology can be a substantial financial hurdle,” Crowley said. “Moreover, the complexity of retrofitting older plants with new, low-carbon equipment adds another layer of difficulty.
“Despite these challenges, we find that with the right strategies and tools, like our Net Zero Glidepath, even these industries can make significant strides toward reducing their carbon footprint.”
Challenges also exist when it comes to governments making the push towards sustainability. The end of 2023 saw another UN international conference on climate action, with COP28 being praised by some for pushing nations – for the first time – to transition away from all fossil fuels.
However, some groups were more critical of the deal, for example smaller island nations – which are particularly vulnerable to the effects of the climate crisis – have been more critical of the deal reached at the conference, claiming it contained a “litany of loopholes” and is “incremental” rather than transformational.
Ireland has its own ambitious goals when it comes to reducing our climate impact, but a survey last month suggested most of Ireland’s renewable energy sector believe the country will fail to meet key targets. Crowley believes Ireland is progressing in its efforts to decarbonise the energy sector, but that there is room for “more ambitious action”.
“The government’s initiatives, like the Climate Action Plan and investment in active travel, lay a strong foundation,” Crowley said. “Yet, from our perspective, the pace could be increased, particularly in the expansion of electric vehicle infrastructure and the enhancement of public transport systems to ensure that the decarbonisation targets are not only met but exceeded.”
Meanwhile, Crowley said his business is seizing opportunities presented by the “need for alignment” with EU rules such as corporate sustainability reporting and the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism by offering “data-driven decarbonisation strategies”.
Efforts gaining ground
Being involved in the decarbonisation efforts of various sectors has given Crowley a bird’s eye view of the different ways companies can tackle the climate crisis – and which efforts are drawing the most attention.
In his view, services that are related to electrification and optimisation are “quickly gaining ground”.
“Electrification, especially through solar panel installations and the integration of battery energy storage systems (BESS), is key for industries looking to pivot away from fossil fuels,” Crowley said. “Moreover, optimisation services that enhance energy efficiency, such as the deployment of smart heat pump systems, are also seeing increased adoption.
“These technologies are not only pivotal for reducing carbon emissions but also for achieving greater energy independence and operational efficiency.”
Meanwhile, Crowley suggested his business is focusing on AI technology as a way to bolster its digital services and enhance the capabilities of engineers “significantly”.
“Critical to deploying this at scale is the sophisticated change and programme management, for which we are collaborating with world-class partners like Slalom and KPMG,” Crowley said.
“These partnerships are pivotal in facilitating large-scale transformations, allowing us to combine our innovative approaches with their expertise in driving change, ensuring that our decarbonisation solutions are both effective and sustainable on a global scale.”
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