Tackling climate change: Mixing profit with purpose
Entrepreneur Norman Crowley signals plan to invest €10m in solar energy projects
Chief executive of Crowley Carbon Norman Crowley, guest speaker at the KPMG Private Enterprise Inspire Series, with KPMG partner Olivia Lynch. Photograph: Julien Behal
Last month, entrepreneur Norman Crowley announced plans to invest €10 million in three solar energy projects in Ireland. This will increase by 50 per cent the solar energy generated in this country at the same time as increasing employment at Crowley Carbon by 50, to 250.
Crowley’s aim is to install more than 1,000 MW of solar energy here between now and 2024, reducing Ireland’s carbon emissions by 250,000 tonnes a year in the process.
He is a serial entrepreneur who is driven by a desire to tackle climate change. Speaking at a KPMG Private Enterprise Inspire Series event in Dublin earlier this year he said: “I didn’t want my children to think it was just about the money. When we started Crowley Carbon, job one was to make money and job two was to cool the planet. We reversed that about a year ago and we’re making even more money.”
Indeed, the company, which helps corporations lower their energy consumption, is now valued at $500 million and has doubled sales each year for the past two years. According to KPMG’s Olivia Lynch, who hosted the Inspire Series event, “Norman’s story definitely struck a chord with everyone in our audience and was hugely motivating. Having role models share their experiences – both good and the not so good – is an essential part of building an even stronger entrepreneurial culture in Ireland.”
Crowley’s entrepreneurial journey is by no means typical. Beginning at the age of 15 while still at school, he trained to become a welder and soon founded his own engineering company, which he sold for a six-figure sum while still in his early 20s.
In a complete change of direction, he followed that venture with a software enterprise, which he quickly grew to become Ireland’s second largest computer sales, distribution and internet services firm. Another change marked a move into online gaming when he founded the Inspired Gaming Group, the largest server-based gaming company in the world. He sold that for $500 million in 2008 and went on to establish The Cloud – Europe’s largest Wi-Fi operator.
He was already working on the idea of an energy efficiency enterprise when the sale of Inspired Gaming went through. Having taken a family holiday in Portugal to relax after that event, he spent most of the fortnight on the telephone making arrangements to set up Crowley Carbon. Such a commitment to serial entrepreneurship is quite typical for many of Ireland’s leading private and family-owned businesses, says KPMG’s Olivia Lynch.
“Many of our clients are juggling multiple ideas at various stages of development and their advisers should be able to help them ensure that they are focused on the products and customers and not down in the weeds on things that are better done by others,” she says.
Crowley is also an ardent believer in the urgent need to tackle climate change. “If you don’t believe in climate change you either haven’t read enough or you’re an idiot,” he told the audience at the KPMG event. “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report says that between 200 million and one billion people will die between now and 2050 as a result of climate change. This is how our world is going to end if we don’t do something about it.”
And he is most certainly doing something about it. “I can sit in a boat and let it happen or I can make my 0.0001 per cent contribution to help,” he added.
The business case has to stand up, of course. “We go to companies with a $1 million-plus spend on energy and we help them reduce their costs, particularly in heating and cooling, and we share in the savings. If we can save a company €10 million a year and its shares trade at 12 times earnings, we add €120 million to its market capitalisation. That’s well worth the fee they pay us, and that is frequently funded by a third party.”
That’s certainly a compelling business case.
Meanwhile, Crowley also believes the combination of profit and purpose will also be essential for businesses in future. “There is an interesting transition happening globally,” he says. “If you are not a purpose-led business you are going to have problems. You won’t get talent and customers coming to you if you are not purpose driven. I talk to oil companies and they are not able to get talent now because they are pulling fossil fuels out of the ground.”
Olivia Lynch says it is heartening to see so many great ideas come to fruition but cautions that funding, the tax treatment of entrepreneurship, and scaling at the right pace in the right markets are just some of the challenges facing Irish family- and privately-owned companies. “Ireland has come a long way as a positive location for entrepreneurship, as many of our KPMG Inspire Series speakers have highlighted,” she says.
She also makes the point that Government attitudes towards entrepreneurship requires keeping all policy levers under constant review.
“Rewarding risk taking means making sure that we don’t unduly penalise Irish entrepreneurs – for example issues such as the relatively more attractive tax treatment in neighbouring jurisdictions of capital gains on the sale of a business needs consideration.”