Women in Energy: In conversation with Maria Flouda on ESG frameworks and sustainability

Written by
22 Mar 2024
Women in Energy: In conversation with Maria Flouda on ESG frameworks and sustainability

As the founder of Sustainability Switch, a consultancy whose mission is “driving businesses to their sustainable destination,” Maria Flouda has been pivotal in shaping the future of corporate sustainability practices. And with her role as the Board Co-Chair at Lean In Equity and Sustainability, she further demonstrates her commitment to making the journey toward a greener future more inclusive. The non-governmental organization focuses on women empowerment.

Flouda’s work proves critical as the world urgently shifts to cleaner energy sources. The International Energy Association predicted that in 2023, around $2.8 trillion would be invested in energy; over $1.7 trillion (or 61.7%) of which could be going to clean energy. This encompasses renewable power, grids, nuclear, storage, and low-emission fuels. 

This global shift toward sustainability is particularly pronounced in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA). In the region, 62% of institutional investors have adjusted their strategies in response to the politicization of ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance). This is the highest rate worldwide. An ESG framework is a set of criteria used to evaluate a company's operations and policies in terms of environmental sustainability, social responsibility, and governance practices.

Flouda’s endeavors resonate especially within this context, as she champions the integration of ESG principles and drives innovation, all while promoting social equity within the energy sector and beyond. 

Backed by a strong academic foundation, she offers 22 years of experience in corporate strategy and project operations. She has worked on several significant large-scale projects and government initiatives. She holds Sustainability Credentials from Cambridge University (CISL), complemented by a master’s and bachelor’s in civil engineering. Her international experience, from the UK to Greece and Abu Dhabi, brings a global perspective to her efforts.

Carrying an evident passion for mentorship, Flouda has also been actively involved in supporting young woman engineers. By championing equality and respect in the workplace, she recognizes the vital contributions and viewpoints that these women offer. When she became a member of the Empowering Growth Working Group of the Climate Council for 2022, she further solidified her significance in the global conversation on both sustainability and gender equality.

In this interview, Flouda shares her insights as a sustainability advocate on the importance of integrating ESG principles. She also talks about how today’s businesses can thrive while leaving a positive impact on the planet — and on society. This conversation also sees her discuss some strategies to support women in the energy sector. 

How vital are ESG frameworks in a business or any other entity?

ESG frameworks are not just vital; they are transformative for businesses and entities across all sectors. They serve as the compass guiding organizations toward sustainability, ensuring that environmental stewardship, social responsibility, and ethical governance are at the core of their operations. 

In my over two decades of experience, I've seen ESG frameworks drive innovation, enhance reputations, and ultimately contribute to long-term profitability and risk management. They are essential for any organization committed to making a positive impact on the planet and society.

What are the key challenges you face when advising energy sector clients on sustainability practices?

The energy sector faces unique challenges, from regulatory complexities to technological advancements and stakeholder expectations. 

One of the primary challenges is integrating sustainable practices in a way that aligns with business goals without compromising operational efficiency. Additionally, the transition to renewable energy sources and the implementation of sustainable practices require significant capital investment and a cultural shift within organizations. 

Overcoming skepticism and resistance to change is also a notable challenge.

What strategies do you find most effective in aligning corporate actions with ambitious environmental targets?

Effective strategies involve clear goal-setting, Executive Leadership buy-in and involvement, stakeholder engagement, and embracing innovation. 

Setting clear, measurable environmental targets provides a roadmap for action. Engaging stakeholders ensures buy-in and collective effort toward these goals. Innovation in processes, technologies, and business models is crucial for overcoming the barriers to sustainability. Moreover, transparency and accountability in reporting progress are key to maintaining trust and credibility among stakeholders.

What benchmarks do you prioritize for social sustainability, and how do you measure success in this area, especially within the energy sector?

For social sustainability, I prioritize workforce diversity, community engagement, and health and safety. Success is measured through diverse workforce metrics, community impact assessments, and reduced safety incidents.

What are your next big goals for promoting sustainability in the energy sector? What challenges do you anticipate facing?

My next big goals for promoting sustainability in the energy sector involve accelerating the transition to renewable energy and enhancing energy efficiency across sectors. This includes advocating for policy reforms, facilitating knowledge exchange, and supporting innovation in clean energy technologies. 

Challenges will likely include technological limitations, securing investment for green initiatives, and ensuring a just transition that considers the workforce and communities affected by the shift away from fossil fuels.

What can be done to empower women in the energy sector? How do female figures in the field contribute to advancing sustainability initiatives?

Empowering women in the energy sector starts with creating inclusive policies, offering mentorship programs, and ensuring equal opportunities for career advancement. Women bring diverse perspectives and innovative solutions to the table, which are crucial for driving sustainability initiatives. 

Female leaders in the energy sector, like those I work with through Lean In Equity and Sustainability are instrumental in shaping a more inclusive and sustainable future for the industry.

Maria Flouda, among other esteemed industry figures, will be speaking at Middle East Energy. The region’s most anticipated energy event is all set to be back with its 49th edition, running from the 16th to the 18th of April 2024 at Dubai World Trade Centre.

The flagship energy event of the year will be the epicenter of opportunities for energy professionals from all over the world! And keeping in line with COP28, Middle East Energy 2024 will be bigger, better, and more focused on sectors that will cater to your energy needs. Register now!


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