Steve Burt is the Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, founder and original investor in EQi. Steve has spent the past 14 years working with economics data relating to sustainability value, P&L resiliency and investor risk.
We want the world to be as blue and green tomorrow as it was yesterday.
What’s your mission?
My mission is to democratise sustainability knowledge to allow all humans to make personal choices regarding the way they wish to contribute to reducing human impact.
I believe we all need to understand how we can maintain our economic profitability within the ecological balance needs of the planet and enhance our diverse global societies through business and lifestyle compatibility. Marketing spin and Guru opinions need to be banished and untarnished information needs to be made readily available throughout our society.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I can honestly state that I had no single objective or career path; I naively lived for the moment and learnt what interested me. As a dyslexic I found it sometimes challenging to focus on a career direction hence pursued knowledge that captured my imagination.
How would your friends describe you?
I would like to think my friends would say I am honest, ethical, a straight talker, a dreamer who likes a glass of red and good whisky … and has never grown up….
What was your ‘road to Damascus moment’ in terms of sustainability?
I realised some 15 years back that there was a disconnection between what was being observed and measured by science and people’s understanding of the reality and how it will affect them in their lifetimes. It became apparent to me after reading Lord Stern’s Economics of Climate Change that we need to help people and business better understand and relate to the consequences of unbridled consumption.
I distinctly remember walking down Pall Mall in London after a meeting with analysts about how to factor in climate change into fund management and thinking that we need to understand that, if there is a risk, what it really is and how can we mitigate its effect.
I realised that we needed a real-world measurement mechanism to accurately understand operating and P&L risks that could impact economic growth and resilience. We need financial grade metrics that provide clear measurement that cannot be fudged or gamed to identify success or failure.
Who or what inspires you?
Ordinary people who do extraordinary things. I have been blessed or lucky to have met many people throughout my life who have touched my soul with their honesty and actions.
My children and grandchildren inspire me to think about how my actions today will impact their tomorrow.
What really grinds your gears?
Apathy irritates me since that’s a copout. Second would be dishonesty which we experience everyday through media hype and political speak.
Describe your perfect day.
Cooking meals from breakfast to evening dinner for my children and grandchildren; then having a night time dram or two when only the adults are left to shoot the breeze and admire the stars.
What do you see when you look out your window at home?
A rolling garden with stream and wildlife that changes each day and each season. As autumn sweeps in the colours change from the many greens to vibrant yellows, oranges and reds.
What do you like spending your money on?
My family and friends
What’s your favourite holiday destination?
I have a few, the South of France, Southern Turkey and, Tennessee and the Carolinas.
What’s your favourite book?
The Shakespeare play, The Merchant of Venice
What’s your favourite film?
I have a few for very different reasons, A Good Year by Ridley Scott with Russell Crowe; Lawrence of Arabia by David Lean with Peter O’Toole and; Casablanca by Michael Curtiz with Humphrey Bogart.
You’re elected prime minister with a thumping majority. What’s the first thing you do?
Greatly improve communication between the elected and electors to provide an open channel that promotes an interactive democracy. Building local and national consensus, community and wellbeing is key to building a strong and vibrant economy. Hence, making people feel they have a voice is critical to engagement to seek understanding for the hard decisions and support for the policies that are best for the country.
If you were stuck on a desert island, which famous person would you like to be stuck with and why?
Russell Crowe since he seems to enjoy life, doesn’t take things too seriously, appears to have a good sense of humour, is not afraid to rip into a subject tongue and cheek and likes a little bevy now and again..
What was the best piece of advice you have ever been given? And the worst?
The best advice was from my father who told me: “Son, the most precious thing you have is your name. Whatever you do in life or whoever you meet, always be fair and honest so people will be proud to say they know you.”
The worst was when I listened to someone who advised me to buy a company when I did not really understand the market. I ended up closing it down. Expensive school fees …
What’s your biggest regret?
Not learning languages, big mistake …
What one thing would you encourage readers to do to make their life more sustainable?
I would recommend that they consider what aspects of their lives are needs vs. wants – not to restrict consumption or purchases, but to empower sustainable decisions.
Sustainability is not about denial but a balanced understanding of what the effects are of certain types of consumption. The western world has built a society on convenience, fashion and self-gratification without linking a product to the resources it took to put that product in our hands.
What’s the one idea that you think could change the world for the better?
Shared Value Process, a mechanism to balance and connect financial reward throughout a supply chain. Since all resources are either extracted or grown, and each generates its own impact on its journey from source to use to end or life, providing a mechanism to understand, manage and share a resources value from origin to end incentivises all stakeholders to work together to develop sustainable processes.
What’s your favourite quote?
A student once asked Master Zen “When is now?” Master Zen answered “One instance is eternity and eternity is now.”
What would you like to be doing five years from now?
Doing what I am doing today with a bit more time on the beach…
And the bonus questions: How would you like to be remembered? – what will they carve on your gravestone?
Don’t live your life by someone else’s script
What is the one question you wanted us to ask you and didn’t?
What makes you tick?
To read other 20 questions with, click here.
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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