ecoWise: "Tomorrow’s successful companies will be those that put sustainability at the heart of their strategy.”

Sustainability and energy efficiency should be key focus areas for every SME. However, the myriad of strategies out there make it challenging for companies to pick the right one – and that’s where KBC comes in. Our subsidiary ecoWise, which was established in 2022, comprises a team of consultants whose aim is to support companies on their sustainability transition journey. “We aim to be the partner for tomorrow’s successful companies.”

Alexander Colpaert, General Manager Business Banking at KBC, is certain about one thing: the pressure is on for business managers to step up their game on energy efficiency and a sustainability strategy. “There are five groups or stakeholders, each of which is exerting pressure in its own way”, Colpaert explains. “The first group to consider are the end consumers, who are increasingly preoccupied with the issue of sustainability. 54 percent of end consumers count on companies to develop sustainable products for them.”

Fit for 55

In consumers’ eyes, politics has failed them: a meagre 7 percent of consumers expect politicians to make sense of the sustainability landscape. “But make no mistake: policy is the second group of stakeholders”, Colpaert points out. “Europe, in particular, has set ambitious targets: to become climate neutral by 2050 and to reduce carbon emissions by 55 percent by 2030 – the famous ‘Fit for 55’ package. And new regulations are added every day, including in the area of biodiversity, especially as regards reporting. Under the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), 55 000 companies in Europe are required to report on their ESG impacts. These reports will be audited as rigorously as their financial reports.”

Smaller companies will also be subject to this obligation through other companies they work with and which are required to comply with the CSRD rules. “Suppliers are also required to disclose certain information, such as their carbon footprint. Failure to meet this requirement may result in being sidelined as a supplier”, Colpaert warns.

The last two stakeholders are companies’ own staff – “young employees, in particular, want to know whether their employer is committed to climate and sustainability” – and banks.

Maximum service and support

Obviously, KBC has long been providing advice and financial and other services to customers on energy and sustainability-related matters. But we realised we needed to take things up a notch. Enter ecoWise. Frederik Goegebeur, CEO of ecoWise: “ecoWise was established in 2022 as a wholly owned subsidiary of KBC Bank. The starting point was our increasing focus on providing our customers with maximum service and support in energy-related areas. The energy crisis certainly boosted this initiative. 
Business owners felt they lacked the necessary time and knowledge to answer all the questions they received. For instance, how do you tackle five quotes for solar panels when you don’t have a clue about your company’s energy needs?’ The ecoWise engineers and consultants have the relevant technical expertise and know-how to answer these questions and provide independent advice. And there’s no need for them to look for work; instead, the work finds them. ‘Customers come to us with their questions,’ says Goegebeur

ecoWise and KBC endeavour to support every SME on their journey towards becoming a more sustainable company.

Alexander Colpaert, general manager Business Banking at KBC

Extra quality label

The ecoWise consultants apply a four-step approach: first, they identify the energy consumption levels. Then, ecoWise looks for effective methods to reduce energy consumption. Next, the experts assess whether renewable energy sources can be used to meet the remaining energy needs. And, lastly, ecoWise explains which grant mechanisms and sustainable financing solutions KBC offers.

This is where the interaction with KBC Bank comes into play. “Advice from ecoWise enhances a credit file”, Colpaert confirms. “We consider this an extra quality label for a credit file, in addition, of course, to the requester’s creditworthiness. ecoWise and KBC endeavour to support every SME on their journey towards becoming a more sustainable company.”

The starting point for the establishment of ecoWise was our increasing focus on providing our customers with maximum service and support in energy-related areas.

Frederik Goegebeur, CEO at ecoWise

ecoWise has already provided some 300 customers with expert advice since its establishment. Roughly one fifth of these customers are farmers, while the others are SMEs from a multitude of sectors, ranging from catering to carpentry. “That was no small feat”, Goegebeur recalls. “And effective, too. Close to 75 percent of these customers actually acted on our advice. The initial focus is often on the quick wins. An equipment upgrade, for instance, can make a huge difference for a company. The company’s cashflow is used to fund this type of fast investment. Larger investments, for example for the upgrading of business premises, naturally require more time.”

Charge points

The demand for ecoWise’s services is not expected to slow down any time soon. “Many of our customers have already expressed an interest in receiving further advice. We are receiving an increasing number of questions related to energy storage systems. The payback periods some business owners are presented with hardly make any sense. This is when our independent advice can really make a difference”, says Goegebeur.

Furthermore, business owners are faced with all manner of red tape, such as the increasingly stringent EPC requirements for non-residential buildings, or the asbestos targets for which a full inventory must be completed by 2032, followed by the phase-out policy.

There are all kinds of obligations to be met in the much shorter term, too, which some business owners haven’t even started to consider yet. By 2025, for example, business premises with 20 parking spaces are required to have at least two charge points installed for electric vehicles.

Sustainable partner

The next major challenge: water. The Flemish government is committed to this challenge, too, for instance in the form of the ‘Blue Deal’, an initiative aimed at combating water scarcity through a whole package of measures which also requires participation from business owners. “‘Water softening’ will be a valuable concept before long”, Goegebeur points out. “And companies will need to contribute efforts towards circular water usage and rainwater harvesting, too.”

“KBC’s strategy is clear”, Colpaert concludes. “We offer clear advice that reflects our ambition to be a truly sustainable partner for our customers in every sense. Because tomorrow’s successful companies will be those that put sustainability at the heart of their strategy.”

What steps is KBC itself taking to be more sustainable?

Read all about it in our sustainability report.

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