The first ever Chief Sustainability Officer

Chief Sustainability Officer at Arendals Fossekompani, Ingunn Ettestøl wants to spend more time at the family farm.

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Ingunn Ettestøl and her dog, Lucy, at Ettestøl. She bought the family farm in 2022 and plans to spend more time here.

She is Arendals Fossekompani’s first ever Chief Sustainability Officer. Privately, Ingunn is engaged in the preservation of nature and a farm that has been in her family for generations.

She grew up in Vegårshei, a Southern Norway municipality with one school, one church, a train station, and strong ties to forestry and agriculture. Its 2,000 inhabitants are surrounded by nature, mostly woods and wildlife, and are perhaps more inclined than others to live a life in harmony with nature.

“Traditionally, the forest and the land has provided housebuilding materials, energy, and food. It makes sense to take good care of what provides you with food and a roof over your head,” says Ingunn.

Two and a half years ago, she bought the family farm. The place, from where her family takes its name, dates to the Viking Age. The church held the property after The Black Death pandemic in the mid 1300s. Ingunn’s family goes four generations back.

“I spent time with my grandparents here. My father grew up in this house, and my grandfather built most of the buildings. Ettestøl means a lot to me and my family. It is the place where I want to spend time as I grow old, tending to the orchard, keeping bees, and growing vegetables,” says Ingunn.

She looks forward to strolling the grounds with an electric, zero-emissions chainsaw in hand, pruning the trees. With more than 20 kinds of apple trees, another 20 varieties of plum trees and 10 cherry trees, the Ettestøl property and its surroundings have a tree collection of historic value, serving as something close to a local fruit tree museum.

Preserving and restoring the qualities of the farm is important. Ingunn has spent many weekends fixing and repairing the property. With financial support from restoration programmes, the old sawmill has been restored – not to its original condition, but still well enough to showcase how it looked when it was operational.

A rural upbringing near a sawmill that found energy in running water, makes for an easy – almost natural – transition to Arendals Fossekompani’s Bøylefoss Hydropower Plant, located only 25 kilometers south. In 2017 Ingunn was hired as a Business Developer at Arendals Fossekompani, based on her experience within renewable energy and in particular hydropower. Her first responsibility in the company was to take lead in the ownership of the hydropower plants.

Ingunn’s professional background includes various positions at regional utility Å Energi (formerly Agder Energi), and Director Strategy and Analysis at Enova, a governmental agency aiming to speed-up the transition to a low-emission society. At the start of her career, Ingunn was a trainee at the International Energy Agency. She holds a PhD in Engineering from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

Being a renewable energy producer for more than a century, Arendals Fossekompani had a very long track-record for sustainability when the rest of the world – and particularly the financial markets – gained interest in sustainable and renewable companies in 2019. Regulators added reporting initiatives, and ESG was the highest trending abbreviation in the financial universe.

Ingunn was made CSO, Chief Sustainability Officer, in 2020.

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Portrait taken outside of Arendals Fossekompani headquaters in Arendal.

“I had both the competence and the interest to accept the position. Energy and the environment have been part of my student life and professional life. Both fields of interest are close to my heart,” says Ingunn.

In 2021, she was asked to join a committee on climate-friendly investments, formed by the Norwegian government – an invitation which she accepted. The committee submitted their final report in 2022.

Only five years ago, the state of sustainability performance and reporting in Norway was immature. Everybody was trying to determine their environmental footprint based on variety of reporting regimes.

“The Accounting Act required us to submit a report on corporate social responsibility. Everything else was optional and not well-defined. The field of sustainability has matured immensely during the last five years. The European Union has taken the lead by introducing the Taxonomy and the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive. Sustainability reporting is becoming a hygiene factor – a license to operate,” says Ettestøl.

Arendals Fossekompani has complied with new rules and regulations. Based on a double materiality assessment, it has been determined how the company’s actions impact both people and the planet, and how sustainability issues can affect its financial well-being.

“We measure and report on environmental issues, such as greenhouse gas emissions, energy, and waste. However, our greatest impact is related to our investments. What we do invest in, and what we don’t invest in. Arendals Fossekompani made a strategic decision in 2020 to not hold any fossil fuel assets, which led us to divest Cogen Energia”.

“Today, our portfolio serves as an enabler for the green transition. This is a claim, which we work hard to live up to and to document for others to see,” says Ingunn.

For the reporting initiatives made by Ingunn and her team, and for the quality and transparency of reports submitted to the market, Arendals Fossekompani has been ranked as one of the top companies listed at the Oslo Stock Exchange.

“Excellent reporting does not improve the condition of the Earth, but transparency keeps companies honest and motivated to do the right thing,” says Ingunn.

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The sawmill, built by Ingunn’s grandfather in 1928, was described as unique by the Norwegian Technical Museum in the 1980s. The structure of the sawmill has been restored with financial support from Kulturminnefondet.
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Ingunn Ettestøl at Ettestøl. She bought the family farm in 2022 and plans to spend more time here.