What will business look like in the future and who are our future leaders?
This is the sixth instalment in our series speaking with a group of young people who are making waves in sustainability. All 12 are scholars on Forum for the Future’s renowned master’s course in leadership for sustainable development.
Angela Green has wanted to help make the world a better place for as long as she can remember. From her placement with Aviva Investors, she tells us about what she has learnt.
Tell us about your experience on the Forum for the Future master’s course. What have your placements involved?
The main reason I chose this course was to dip my toe into how sustainability can work across many different industries through the varied placements on offer.
In my food system placement, I worked with farmers, cheese makers and office workers on ways to further embed sustainability throughout the dairy co-operative First Milk (the brand behind the Lake District Cheese Company and Pembrokeshire Cheese).
In my communications placement, I was trained to use the Scottish government’s new behaviour change policy tool, the ISM model, and then made recommendations for marketing it and engaging more companies and local authorities to use it. I also worked with the 2020 Climate Group which showed me the amazing power of collaboration when you put it at the heart of what you do.
My energy placement was with the housing developer Crest Nicholson, where I researched and presented to senior board members how they can make it easier for new homeowners to reduce their space heating energy use through design and behaviour change measures.
Currently I’m working with Aviva Investors to research sustainable certification and assurance marks across different industries to better inform their investment decisions and engagement with investee companies.
Where does your interest in sustainability come from?
I’ve always been fascinated by people and although it might sound clichéd, I knew from an early age I wanted to help make the world a better place. Through my love of travelling, volunteering abroad and my studies of French and international relations, I realised how essential living within environmental limits is in order for people to prosper, as well as protecting the environment for its own sake.
Since graduating in 2010, I’ve worked as visitor experience manager with the RSPB and as project officer with Nurture Lakeland to engage businesses, communities and tourists with sustainable tourism in the Lake District and reducing their environmental impacts through their love of the landscape.
For me, sustainable development is about making sure we’re heading in the right direction – one that will help people and the natural world flourish for years to come. What’s more, sustainable development definitely appeals to the problem-solver in me who’s up for a challenge.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given during your course?
“Speak the language of the person you’re trying to engage with and meet them where they are – don’t expect them to come to meet you.” This advice came from Sara Parkin, co-founder of Forum for the Future and one of our lecturers. It chimed very clearly with my experience of working within the sustainability sector with businesses and the public prior to the course as well as my placements this year.
Engaging varied audiences who have different values and levels of interest to help them believe sustainable development applies to them requires talking with them on their terms, using the language they use and will connect with – and often this will mean not calling what we’re talking about ‘sustainability’!
What’s the most important business lesson you’ve learnt?
Collaboration is key. Before the course, I had no idea how essential collaboration between competitors has been in furthering sustainable development so far, across almost every industry. I now have a much more nuanced understanding of how the business world operates and that although keeping a competitive advantage is paramount, this doesn’t exclude working with competitors to change the wider system in which they operate to be able to work more sustainably.
On a personal level I’ve realised the importance of growing my own network of similarly-minded sustainability professionals in order to share limited resources and get big things done together to make a real impact.
What one idea do you think could change the world for the better?
I think the one idea that could change the world for the better is if people stop thinking that one idea could change the world for the better! This course has really opened my mind to systems thinking and as such I think that instead of looking for a silver bullet, we’ve got to try a multitude of good ideas to see which ones gain traction, which ones people engage with and which ones manage to catalyse the right things at the right time.
That’s not to say that there aren’t things that could be done to help all this along – investors placing their money into companies who consider their environmental and social impacts, governments incentivising companies to count the costs of their environmental and social externalities, and anything to help people feel more empowered and that their votes, voices and actions really do count towards making tomorrow a better place.
What do you see of the future in terms of sustainability, business and the environment?
The world will keep on turning, whatever we do in terms of sustainability – the question is what do we want society to look like in 10, 20, 30 years’ time? I am working towards a future where inequality is lessened, where everyone has what they need to lead a life of dignity and where we do not compromise tomorrow’s environment for today’s convenience.
Business has a place in providing this if we remember what Adam Smith, the father of capitalism, said about people and companies having a responsibility towards others. We would do well to revisit what we are making money for, and whether it could be serving us better – something many ordinary people (and some companies) are already starting to ask and which offers hope that we could move in a different direction.
Where will you be in 10 years’ time?
Who knows! One of the joys of working within the sustainability sector is that there are new developments every day of the week – the job I’ll be doing in 10 years time probably doesn’t even exist yet. What I do know, and what the last year has taught me is that I’ll still be keeping an eye out for innovation that raises the bar, creating spaces for collaboration and challenging people who think we are powerless to make a difference.
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?
But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?
The Big Picture
The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.
That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.
One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.
There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.
As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.
Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.
Make and Model of Car
Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.
On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.
The Bottom Line
Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?
Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.
New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035
New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.
New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.
Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.
Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”
The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.
Zero net emissions by 2050
Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.
Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.
She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.
Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”
A worldwide shift to renewable energy
Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.
Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.
Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.
Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.
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