The way we frame energy efficiency is changing, Dr Brian Motherway, Head of the Energy Efficiency Division at the International Energy Agency, says.

Where once it was about saving the planet, it has now shifted to how we can save money, Motherway said during his keynote at the 2016 National Energy Efficiency Conference last week.

But energy efficiency lies at the heart of many political and social objectives – productivity, profitability, health, climate change mitigation and competitiveness among them.

As Motherway said: “It doesn’t matter what the focus, as long as there is a focus”.

The eighth annual National Energy Efficiency Conference covered a range of topics – from how precinct-scale solutions are gathering steam to how institutional investors and sovereign wealth funds are driving change through their decarbonisation strategies. The mood in the room was up-beat. As Motherway said: “the market for energy services appears poised for growth.”

He also urged us not to lose sight of our role in meeting our obligations under the Paris Agreement. “There is no credible path to tackling climate change without energy efficiency,” he explained.

Also speaking at the conference, Amanda McKenzie; CEO of the Climate Council, said energy efficiency can get Australia about half way to meeting its obligations under the Paris Agreement. “We need policy drivers to increase energy productivity but government is still lacking clear pathways”, McKenzie said.

In a later session, Bronwyn Evans, CEO of Standards Australia, added that “we need policy-makers and policy-takers to be innovative. If policies not actually used there’s no benefit derived.”

Federal Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy Mark Butler lamented the politicisation of energy and climate policy. “There is no question we have reached a tipping point” and Australia risks being left behind as China adds 50 gigawatts of renewable energy to the mix each year, the United States continues to closes coal fired power stations, and solar power overtakes coal as the most use energy source in the UK.

But some governments are starting to take a more holistic approach to energy efficiency. The NSW and Victorian governments understand that it is no longer enough to set a target and write a short guideline. Instead, we need a cooperative and collaborative approach with government and industry working together.

NSW Minister for the Environment Mark Speakman, for example, is driving an ambitious agenda. He wants build a nation that is “a green services hub for the Asia-pacific region”.

“We want to sell energy efficiency in government, and we want to sell to the average punter,” Speakman told the 800-strong crowd.

The common conception is that energy efficient is not a particularly sexy term and doesn’t attract the headlines in the Daily Telegraph or interviews on The Project. But it is actually the sexiest thing possible. Our challenge is to integrate energy efficiency into mainstream thinking – and this is undoubtedly a big task for us and for every other government around Australia.

But the power that sits behind the energy efficiency movement is transformative. And how well we fare will be judged on the outcomes we deliver, not on write ups in popular media.

I am optimistic about the future. Whether it’s about the planet saving potential or the productivity, the macro-enonomic gains or the health benefits, the energy efficiency movement has a compelling narrative. And we are its story-tellers.

The Energy Efficiency Council has shown real leadership in the development of the policy needed to support this growth. The well-received policy handbook launched earlier this year is just one example. The Council has a central role to play in bringing industry together, and to help governments seize the benefits of energy efficiency.

As an industry, our focus is shifting from the incremental to the transformational. The incremental approach of the past has helped us build a business case. Now, it’s time to push the innovation envelope – to move beyond delivering just one landmark energy efficiency project and instead embrace deep retrofits across large portfolios. To challenge our colleagues and competitors. And to work together to build a better future for us all.