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Future sustainability leaders: Patrick Elf



What will business look like in the future and who are our future leaders?

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be speaking with a group of young people making waves in sustainability. All 12 are scholars on Forum for the Future’s renowned master’s course in leadership for sustainable development.

First up is Patrick Elf, who is currently on a six-week finance placement with Blue & Green Tomorrow.

Tell us about your experience on the Forum for the Future master’s course. What have your placements involved?

My experience can be described as both diverse and amazing. After I finished my undergraduate studies in international culture and management in Cologne, Germany, I made the big step to come to London and dive into a completely different sector. I had to commit myself to sustainability.

During the past year, I have been exposed to such a wide range of challenges and companies. I started with the Food & Drink Federation (FDF), where I learned lots about how a trade association works and how it can help its members to be more sustainable.

I then moved on to TUI Travel (better known under the name Thomson and FirstChoice here in the UK). Since my studies in Germany had a focus on tourism, it was personally very interesting to see how such a huge company was dealing with sustainability issues and, in particular, how it communicated sustainability to its employees and customers.

After that, I was at the Crown Estate doing a research project around the energy-water nexus. I was based in the energy team, and able to work together with the sustainability team – an amazing experience.

At the moment I am working for Blue & Green Tomorrow and getting to know about how to successfully communicate sustainable investment to both investors and the wider public.

Where does your interest in sustainability come from?

During my studies, I spent half a year in Chile where I had the chance to visit some amazing places. One of them was Patagonia, where I got to know a lot about glaciers. Seeing actively what kind of impact we have on Pachamama, or Mother Earth, made me think. I then decided to focus my studies on sustainable tourism and finally came across the Forum for the Future course, which provides me with the unique chance to gain a broad knowledge about different sustainability issues and let me eventually connect the dots.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given during your course?

During my placement at the Crown Estate, I learned from the head of sustainability just how important it is to empower people so everybody can be a leader and contribute his or her bit to a better future. Unfortunately, most people surrender and go with the flow.  Therefore, it is important to reflect on one’s own performance and to learn from it in the future.

What’s the most important business lesson you’ve learnt?

Oh, tricky question. There are a number of important business lessons I’ve learned. One is probably that a large number of businesses still focus on the fast money instead of shifting their focus on more healthy, long-term strategies. Another is that it is crucial to have a good, resilient and sustainable corporate culture in which everybody is engaged.

To achieve this, but also generally, you have to speak their language. This is perhaps the most important lesson. If you don’t speak their language (and I don’t mean Spanish, Mandarin, etc) you won’t be able to change anything.

What one idea do you think could change the world for the better?

The internet (or technology more generally). It already transformed our lives and will do so even more n the future. I was very sceptical and still oppose the opinion that it is the solution to all our problems. But my hope is that it can encourage people to share their knowledge across sectors and, even more importantly and fascinatingly, across nations and continents. If we use it for the right purposes, it is definitely the invention that could transform our world for the better.

What do you see of the future in terms of sustainability, business and the environment?

I hope that so-called corporate social responsibility or sustainability departments vanish. The ones who want to contribute to sustainable development have a common goal, which is integrating sustainability in every aspect of our lives for a better future.

The business case for sustainability has been made repeatedly. That it can be profit generating is clear. However, most people consider business as the only effective contributor to improving our lives. For decades, consuming stuff and over-consuming resources trumped nature and philanthropy. Today, I see a shift towards more sustainable thinking emerging which will eventually result in a conglomerate of sustainability, business and the environment.

Where will you be in 10 years’ time?

Another tricky question! Especially because I just finished Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book Black Swan. This book taught me not to predict the future. But my dearest hope is to have a job that allows me to work for a future in which my children and their children and their children’s children find their place – one where it is normal to live within your needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. We need to achieve that without exploiting our own race and nature.

Further reading:

21st century leadership: from business as usual to business as a force for good

Success means seeing ourselves as part of the bigger system

Has CSR reached its sell-by date?

The business case for sustainability – an exceptional Forum for the Future event

The Guide to Corporate Social Responsibility 2013


Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?



self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo |

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.

Driver Reduction?

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.

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New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035



renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart /

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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