The solution to climate change will be people-powered. Here's why
- To convince people to act, we need to show - not tell - them that there is a better way to do things.
- Companies can lead the way and start to restore public trust by taking visible, meaningful action today.
- But no one can do this alone. Collaboration is the key to a successful climate response.
In our critically endangered world, there is no version of the future in which humanity can continue as it has always done. The climate crisis was created by the actions of people, and it is people who are going to have to act to manage its impact. Some would argue that public and private-sector bodies wield the only meaningful levers for change. But companies and governments are made of humans, who are driven by human ambitions, human fears, and an innate human preference for the status quo.
To create momentum where it matters, we need to speak a language that is clear to all people: the language of action.
A human momentum machine
So how do we persuade individuals to act? To gain momentum, we need to stop talking and prove that there is a better way to do things. Sustainable ideas take hold when it’s clear they are not a compromise, but that they outperform their counterparts on multiple levels. LED lighting for general illumination has been around since the 2010s as a replacement to CFLs, and today, we agree that it is not just a sustainable choice, but a superior technology in almost every application.
LED light bulbs are a success story because they have proven their effectiveness on multiple levels: they are far more energy-efficient, they last longer, they have incredible flexibility in their application, they are infinitely configurable, and – when connected – the advantages are greater still. People needed to see this technology in action. Then they trusted it, and it became our everyday solution.
Tesla wasn’t the first company to build an electric vehicle (EV), but it was the first to successfully bring an EV to market as a high-performance, luxury status item. Tesla made the consumer breakthrough for EV technology by underlining the same message: that designing for sustainability is not a compromise, but leads to better outcomes on every level. Tesla created a high-end market for itself and opened the door for other manufacturers to target mainstream consumers. And as EV sales continue to pick up pace, you can be sure there are further leaps in performance, design and affordability ahead, and that some of this innovation will come from the rival vehicle manufacturers that were once affirmed skeptics. People believed in the technology not when it was an abstract idea in the newspaper, but when it passed them on the highway.
In the private sector, a position on climate action is an essential component of doing business in 2022. But public trust in corporations has been squandered by greenwashing, unethical lobbying under the guise of climate concerns, and opaque and non-standardized emissions reporting that makes it difficult to cut through the spin. Only consistent action and transparency can reverse the damage and engender trust.
And even in large companies, implementing big ideas needs an even greater scale than we have at our disposal. That means finding and collaborating with organizations that share common goals and principles, and crucially, committing to act on them. For example, the Science Based Targets Initiative requires members to make their emissions targets transparent, and ensures that those targets are in line with the best-case outcomes for the world’s climate. The Climate Group’s RE100 and EV100 programs bring together like-minded organizations to work together to achieve a shift to 100% renewable electricity and transition company cars to electric fleets.
And occasionally, collaboration means doing some of the heavy lifting yourself. Signify was able to switch to 100% renewable electricity in part due to virtual power purchase agreements that helped us access renewable power sources in areas where there would otherwise have been insufficient supply. By acting with other companies that shared our goal, we were able to guarantee market demand to lift the renewables sector in those areas and fulfil our own sustainable electricity needs. We could only have achieved that through collaboration and committing together to concrete action.
Building a better future
Local and national governments should be speaking the language of action, too. With a pressing need to create jobs to fuel post-pandemic recovery, there has never been a better time to invest in sustainable infrastructure projects. The European Green Deal and US recovery plans provide the building blocks, the programmes and the funding. Now, it’s up to political leaders to set the ambition level and ensure that those plans are carried out.
Building renovation is a great place to start. Within Europe, our built environment is responsible for 40% of energy consumption and 36% of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. If we raise the rate that our ageing buildings are renovated to a modest 3% per year, we will clean up most of our built environment by 2050. And to multiply the benefit, energy renovation is a jobs machine, with each €1m invested in energy renovation in the EU creating 12-18 local jobs. This is not a new idea, but it is receiving a new level of traction now that economic recovery funding is on the table. We have the ideas, the plans, the framework and the funding. Now, we need to see it in action.
We are moving together into difficult times. Once climate change becomes disruptive, we all fail, and no one can succeed in a society that fails. And the potential wins are manifold. When you collaborate, you learn from each other. You inspire employees and customers. But most of all, you create scale, and you need scale to accelerate progress. Through action, multiplied, we can yield the innovation and change that is needed to address the greatest challenge of our age.