We know the frightening statistics. We know we “should” be doing something urgently. And many of us feel helpless when it comes to the environment.
However, that might be because we don’t realise how much progress is already being made, and how much we can actively contribute.
For example, did you know that the European Union is on track to meet its carbon emissions goal for 2020? In 2008, the EU set a target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020, compared to 1990 levels. It hasn’t all been smooth sailing (emissions increased in 2017 after years of overall decrease), but there is clear progress: in 2015 we had managed to decrease emissions by 22%, compared with 1990 levels. That is the power of collective action.
So why aren’t we celebrating? As the urgency of the situation becomes clearer, the EU has decided on more ambitious targets. And it’s certainly not like we can rest on our laurels. We aren’t in 2020 yet and so we need to actively monitor our emissions, in order to make sure that we don’t slip back after years of progress.
But there is much to be cautiously optimistic about. Really and truly optimistic.
There is progress, and our collective action is having tangible results
This was the powerful conclusion of the 2018 EirGrid conference, for which I was MC. Undertaking extensive research in preparation for the event, and then listening to expert panelists on the day, I realised that, just like so many of us, I was under-aware of the progress that was being made, and of its real, noticeable impact.
Watch the video for the three heartening insights I took away from the conference:
Let us focus on the good that is happening, so that we can learn best practices from each other. Let’s encourage everybody – absolutely everybody – to do something: our individual efforts might seem tiny, but collectively they are making a huge difference every day.
Let’s get excited about taking on what is the greatest challenge of the century, and tackling it together – not just as a nation, but as a planet of citizens.
What does the EirGrid Group do? In the words of Rosemary Steen, Director of External Affairs: “Our job in the EirGrid Group is to provide a safe, secure and reliable supply of electricity on the island of Ireland: now, and in the future.”
More importantly, EirGrid is aware of the crucial role the citizens of Ireland will play in this.
In the words of Rosemary Steen, “My aspiration is that there is a shift whereby the grid moves from its unseen role to become a central and understood part of everyone’s lives in Ireland. I’d like to get to a position where people understand that the grid has a positive impact on all of us because it enables us to do the things we need to do every day, powering our businesses, our communities and our home lives. I also want to build awareness of the ethical way in which we carry out our work, ensuring that we have a positive impact on the local and national environment.”
Ten innovation projects and seven deep trends that show we are making progress
Yes, we have heard about the devastation caused by plastic in the oceans. Waste and air pollution are huge challenges that we are facing today. What many of us might not be aware of, though, is that right now, clever solutions are being invented to tackle these issues very efficiently.
Watch this video about ten inventions that are tackling climate change, plastic pollution and waste:
Hayes Culleton started in business in 2010. In less than 10 years, there are seven changes we have witnessed and have taken on board at our company:
1. The peer-to-peer economy.
By increasing supply without building more cars or more hotel rooms, companies like Zipcar and AirBnB harnessed idle resources and decreased the environmental footprint. Look at this illuminating infographic from Zipcar. Zipcar members reduced total carbon emissions by 1.5 billion pounds. This is a central theme of the book Peers, Inc., by Robin Chase, founder of Zipcar (watch my review of the book here).
2. The emphasis on access over ownership.
Why buy something if you can access it when and as you need it, for a better price? The explosion in the number of incubation centres is a sign of this trend: many new companies don’t need a whole glass-and-steel building to themselves. Many don’t even need a static office 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Hayes Culleton has been using the services of the DCU Invent incubation centre from the start: it lowered the barrier immensely to start out in business, and it has kept company costs low – and environmental costs particularly.
3. The circular economy
It is much more of a “thing” now, as shown by the recent ban on single use plastics. This is part of a wider trend that emphasises reusing: reusing objects, and reusing materials. Upcycling has dramatically increased in popularity and consignment stores and vintage have moved to much “higher end”. Recycling bins are now everywhere, in airports, train stations, cities, company buildings (like DCU Invent), allowing you to sort your waste to be recovered and put to good use.
4. Remote working.
As this trend is being embraced around the world, we get to enjoy all the benefits: remote working is an excellent example of how environmental gains have a positive domino effect – it’s a win-win-win situation. Employees get more peaceful days, less commuting, fewer distractions, less stress; and fewer cars on the road mean this workplace trend is having a huge environmental impact. In fact, according to Abodoo, “Carbon taxes could be avoided while still meeting EU targets if every company let 1 employee smart work… It would reduce carbon emissions by 1.1 Million metric tonnes per year.”
This is something we’ve been embracing wholeheartedly at Hayes Culleton: all the members of our team work remotely and we have cut all non-essential domestic and international travel, thanks to technologies like video-conferencing.
5. Our Savvy Teens tell us that they want to work in ethical workplaces and are much more aware of the environment.
The rise of the B Corp Euro and other CSR initiatives are encouraging more and more companies to keep in mind the triple bottom line. This is not just a “nice to have”: an authentic concern for the environment as shown in tangible action will be essential for companies to attract talent, and to get positive influencer feedback for and from customers.
Learn more about #SavvyTeenAcademy.
6. The paperless office.
My personal assistant is working with me on the VAT return at the moment: compared to when she started working with us, there is so much less paper. I get very little post anymore and I can now bring my office with me everywhere on my laptop and my phone, in a way that just wasn’t possible only a few years ago.
7. This has been enhanced by digitisation and cloud-based technologies.
Apps like CamScanner mean paper can be digitised on the spot. Being able to upload documents to the cloud has reduced the amount of paper we need to carry around. The cloud has also made USB sticks, hardware, memory discs etc. less and less of a need. This has reduced costs for companies and lowered barriers.
The environmental impact of the cloud remains a concern, because server farms are voracious energy consumers, but this is something companies are actively working on: “The Microsoft Cloud is between 22 and 93 percent more energy efficient than traditional enterprise datacenters, depending on the specific comparison being made.” (click to download the Microsoft Cloud Carbon Study 2018 as a PDF)
We need to accelerate the rate of progress, in Ireland and in the EU
We are progressing apace, and there is much to be positive about. Now, let’s put that in the context of the metrics that matter. At the EirGrid conference, Minister Sean Kyne pointed out that over half of the EU’s electricity will come from renewables by 2030. There is progress, but we’re not moving as fast as we should in order to meet our targets.
Case in point: in Ireland, as of 2018, “renewables made up 10.6% of gross final consumption relative to a 2020 target of 16%. This avoided 4.1 million tonnes of CO2 emissions and €439 million of fossil fuel imports.” Renewable energy sources increase the autonomy and independence of Ireland when it comes to energy. But we’re certainly not where we need to be yet.
This is reiterated by the EPA: “Ireland’s economy and economic policy are clearly making positive moves in relation to planning and have achieved some limited success in decarbonisation and resource efficiency; however, there is still considerable scope for improvement.”
In fact, here is a recent tweet from EirGrid themselves: energy generated from wind fluctuates with winds, of course – but Ireland has the ability to harness it. At one point on 11 January 2019, wind represented 80% of the energy generated on the island.
Interesting news on the wind front! Wind output, as a percentage of overall generation on the island, was consistently above 75% for most of last Friday night/Saturday morning. At one point 80% of generation on the island was being provided by wind! #greenenergy #decarbonisation
— EirGrid Plc (@EirGrid) 14 janvier 2019
And while the EU is on track to meet the 2020 goals it set in 2008, according to projections it will fall short of it 2040 goals set in 2014, of reducing carbon emissions by 40% compared to 1990 levels. So we still have work to do, but what we’re doing is working: it seems we need to do more of it, faster.
Where are the bottlenecks? An example is the cost of renewable energy: it has fallen significantly, faster than anticipated, even, especially for photovoltaic solar energy and offshore wind. But these sources of energy are intermittent: the sun doesn’t always shine, and the wind doesn’t always blow. So it is necessary to store the energy thus produced. Again, the cost of storage has also fallen rapidly.
So what gives? Isn’t it all great? Renewables are more and more affordable? Yes, but there are other costs and structural issues that might prove to be more complex to solve: like the cost of implementation into households. This cost is higher and requires more individual co-operation, so that’s where the focus needs to be in the next phase.
International cooperation will be more crucial than ever
Now, here comes a very difficult point. Ireland, and even the EU, despite their evolving, albeit currently insufficient, efforts, are not creating the bulk of the issue. The main issue are countries that are bigger and further afield. In this infographic produced by the FT for example, it’s clear to see that the US and Chinese superpowers are the greatest violators.
According to the World Bank, China produced 200 million tons of municipal solid waste in 2016. That’s approximately 25% of the world’s total generated waste.
However, other countries are taking the lead and doing their part. Vietnam is an emerging country with lots of challenges due to its mountainous terrain, growing population and rapid economic development. Yet, Hanoi was specifically mentioned at the conference by Dr. Shannon as a city showing leadership in the “waste to energy” space.
Here is an excerpt from “Vietnam: Opportunities in the Waste-to-Energy Sector”, by Vietnam Briefing
Last year, in April 2017, Vietnam’s first industrial waste-to-energy plant was set up in Hanoi, with equipment from Japan’s Hitachi Zosen Corporation. It can process 75 tonnes of waste per day and generate 1.93 MW of energy. A total of US$29 million was invested in the project, with US$22.5 million being non-refundable aid from Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), a governmental organization that focuses on research and development of industrial technology in new energy solutions. In the same month, the Go Cat plant became operational in Ho Chi Minh City, which has already treated 500 tons of industrial waste and generated seven megawatts for the national grid.
There is a lot of opportunity here!
Going green doesn’t necessarily mean doing without
Many of us think going green means making sacrifices: not using plastic, not buying this, that and the other. We have the impression that being environmentally minded makes life more complicated and less convenient. At a wider, national level, we associate making environmental improvements with sacrifices on the economic front. I would have thought so too, if I hadn’t looked beneath the surface.
However, I mentioned remote working earlier: this environmental choice is having wider positive repercussions, and it is not isolated.
American company Constellation makes the point eloquently in their “Small Business Sustainability Plan” guidance: “Your cost savings, reduced risk, positive brand association, improvements to the environment and public health, and ability to meet demands for eco-conscientious products and services will more than offset the costs of up-front integration of sustainability initiatives. In other words, your small business sustainability plan’s initial costs are a wise investment!”
At the conference, Giles Dickson highlighted the positive windfall (!) of the wind energy sector: including 263,000 jobs, €75 billion turnover, €36 billion contribution and responsibility for 12% of all electricity consumed in the EU. This equates to approximately half of the chemical industry’s contribution in the EU.
The environment is not a cost, it’s an investment – one worth billions
Funding initiatives reflect this philosophy: the environment is not a cost, it’s an investment. And one that’s worth quite a lot. Let’s take the Social Enterprise Development Fund:
The Social Enterprise Development Fund is a €1.6 million fund which will be delivered over two years: 2018 – 2020. The fund was created by Social Innovation Fund Ireland (SIFI) in partnership with Local Authorities Ireland and funded by IPB Insurance and the Department of Rural and Community Development.
The Department of Rural and Community Development provides match funding for all philanthropic funds raised by Social Innovation Fund Ireland, through the Dormant Accounts Fund.
Patrick Devine Wright reinforced the point that we need to not just look for tech solutions, but socio-tech solutions to bring together people and technology. On this, let’s not forget that Enterprise Ireland offers the Innovation Partnership. The Partnership is an opportunity to collaborate with universities to commercialise innovative ideas.
Innovation Partnerships enable people with really good ideas to collaborate with the expertise of a university and the money of the EU or Enterprise Ireland to commercialise research.
And of course the European Union has a lot of funding earmarked specifically for environmental purposes: “The LIFE programme is the EU’s funding instrument for the environment and climate action. The general objective of LIFE is to contribute to the implementation, updating and development of EU environmental and climate policy and legislation by co-financing projects with European added value.”
The LIFE programme started in 1992 and since then it has financed 3954 projects across the EU, contributing approximately €3.1 billion to the protection of the environment. That’s on top of all the other EU funding available for SMEs which always emphasises environmental concerns, like Horizon2020 among others: H2020 provisions around €80 million for eco-innovation.
Government agencies are well aware of the fact that the stakes are high. At the conference, Marie Donnelly gave us a clear example of that: the housing stock in Ireland is turned over once every 25 years. Therefore, we have one bite at the cherry to replace all fossil fuels, for cooking and heating, to electricity by 2050. Think of all the suppliers who have the opportunity to sell into this market!
Enterprise Ireland offer supports to build a “green and sustainable” business including GreenStart and GreenPlus. They say: “Better environmental performance leads to improved resource efficiency and direct cost savings and can also increase access to customers who are increasingly demanding more environmentally friendly products and services.”
There are so many economic incentives to going green.
Let us focus on what we can do – and there’s a lot we can do
So, the question is, what can we do? What can you and I do to make a difference, in whatever capacity we find ourselves in?
Here are 6 steps to take today to make a difference:
1. We can start in the home.
According to the EPA report mentioned above, “CSO data published in 2016 would suggest that 500,000 national households do not implement waste prevention in the operation of their homes, and 51,000 households do not participate in legal waste management practices.” This means almost one in three houses could be doing better within their own four walls.
2. We can review our Supply Chains.
If, as businesses and consumers, we seek out sustainable products, then our suppliers will adjust behaviour. For example, the European Commission note that the demand for recycled plastics accounts for only 6% of plastics demand in Europe. The proposed solutions to increase recycling rates include introducing quality standards for recycled plastics, encouraging certification to increase trust, mandatory rules on minimum recycled content in some products, reducing VAT on recycled products.
3. We can examine other initiatives that have worked and learn from them.
For example, I was MC in 2015 for the STEM Project Closing Event. STEM was an acronym for “Sustainability Together for Environmental Management”. This particular project helped over 150 cross border businesses in excess of £1 million through networking, identifying savings and enhancing their environmental performance.
The results were more than encouraging:
Monaghan Leisure Complex took steps to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill and increase recycling, achieving a 50 % reduction. They say “Through participating on the project we have made big savings without a big investment.”
Quays Shopping and Leisure Complex introduced a recycling policy across the centre and purchased a composter for food waste to fertilise flower beds on site. These improvements alone saw a reduction in landfill of 309 tonnes per year, resulting in savings of over £10,500 per annum.
Cuan Guesthouse reduced the amount of waste going to landfill by 35%, and realised cost savings in energy, water and waste of over 10% per annum.
As I closed the event that day, I said that the true benefit of this would be felt in the years to come, long after that project came to an end. In the words of Warren Buffett, “Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”
4. The academic, policy making and activism sectors can engage with EirGrid through their External Affairs platform.
5. The plethora of organisations involved in the development of “Smart Cities” can implement key initiatives having a wide-ranging impact very quickly.
Dr. Shannon identified the three levers (i.e. buildings, waste and cars) that cities need to focus on, in order to become much more environmentally friendly. Jackie Quinn told us about the “Drive for Zero” campaign in Cork that grow its impact through incentives such as free tolls and parking, local political support and constant communication.
6. As companies, we can put in place an Environmental Policy Statement.
The term “statement” sounds like something that one might say, but instead, it’s something that’s designed to guide action.
- For example, in our own case, as documented on our “Social Responsibility” page, our efforts towards Environmental Sustainability include:
- We supporting remote working for all of our staff.
- We seek to embrace the circular economy by donating or recycling – for example the books I read for my book reviews I then donate, unless I borrowed them from the library in the first place.
- We encourage the use of video conferencing in the place of non-essential travel.
- We have adopted a paperless approach in our office.
- We seek out and promote the sustainability efforts of our suppliers through social media.
If you want to go further, you can develop a more comprehensive Small Business Sustainability Plan – look at Constellation’s 5-step approach.
Making people feel they can be a part of this
Almost all of the contributions that day made the point that there needs to be more interaction between the stakeholders and society. Marie Donnelly also said that democratisation of the energy sector is key. People need to know that the energy is theirs, particularly when asked to make changes: it is important that they feel the changes are not imposed on them and that they embrace playing a part.
Jim Gannon picked up on the need to give people an ability to understand their community’s use of energy. Robin McCormack said there is a need to get society’s input as we clarify who does what and what we really want from offshore energy to develop a coherent strategy.
The one thing that everybody agreed on is that the time for clear, strategic, community-wide action is now. Mark Foley summarised the Eirgrid position in one clear line:
“Let us do something while we have the chance.”
Are you on the list?
The post No, it’s not too late for the planet: EirGrid Conference, October 2018 – Susan HayesCulleton as MC appeared first on “The Positive Economist” Financial – Economics – Fintech & Entrepreneurship Articles.
Source: The Positive Economist